Swiatek favourite to ace Paolini for fourth Paris crown

The contrasts between the French Open women's finalists are obvious: Iga Swiatek, at 23, already owns four grand slam titles, including three in Paris while Jasmine Paolini, 28, hadn't even been past the second round at any major until this season.

Entering Saturday, Swiatek is on a 20-match winning streak at Roland Garros as she pursues a third consecutive championship on the red clay, and the Polish star's career record at the place is 34-2. Paolini, in contrast, was 3-5 at the French Open until this six-win run over the past two weeks.

Swiatek has spent nearly every week since April 2022 as world No.1 but Paolini is currently No.15.

"Iga is an unbelievable player. ... So young, but so many achievements and grand slams," Paolini said, admitting the magnitude of her task.

Swiatek has 21 career titles in all, including four just this year, when she is 44-4. Her comprehensive win over US Open champion Coco Gauff pushed her remarkable winning percentage at Roland Garros to 94.4 per cent. Echoes there of Rafael Nadal's time-honoured domination in Paris.

Asked what her confidence and comfort level are on clay, Swiatek paused before responding with a shrug: "High."

Italy's Jasmine Paolini is a long-shot underdog to win a maiden grand slam in Paris. (AP PHOTO)

"The surface makes my game better. My grip allows me to spin more. I can play more defence points because it's a bit slower, but on the other hand, I have also more time to attack sometimes," she continued, after being prompted for an explanation. "So I feel like I'm just using it well."

Paolini is a late bloomer. She came into 2024 with a losing record as a pro of 78-87 and one career title, but she is 22-10 this year with one trophy.

And after having lost in the first or second round in each of her first 16 grand slam appearances, she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open in January — and now is on this surprising run in Paris.

Swiatek is an almost unbackable favourite but the diminutive 1.63m Paolini's ability to get to nearly every ball and come out ahead in baseline exchanges has served her well at this French Open.

She credits her recent breakthrough to greater self-confidence.

"Often, I heard, 'You play well' and 'You could do more. You can get good results. You could do great things.' But I never really believed it deep down, which is something that has changed lately," she said.

"The on-court results are something tangible, more concrete, to me than someone telling me, 'You can do great things.' It helps to win more matches — or even lose ones that were hard-fought against strong opponents."

Paolini was born and lives in Italy and represents that country, but speaks fondly of memories of spending part of her childhood in Poland, where one of her grandmothers lives, and she also has a grandfather from Ghana.

She's talked during the tournament about being proud of her roots, and she's answered news conference questions in Italian, English and Polish.

So does she ever chat with Swiatek in Polish in the locker room?

"Yes," Paolini said, her ever-present smile transforming into a laugh, "but I hope she doesn't ask me too many questions."