Four years have passed since Karolina Muchova beat Iga Swiatek in their only confrontation, four years in which their paths have diverged: it is as a well-established world number one in the elite that the Pole will face the Czech in search of glory on Saturday, June 10.
In 2019 in Prague, Karolina Muchova, who had benefited from an invitation, won in three sets in the first round against the Polish who had gone through qualifying. A few months later, Iga Swiatek made a name for himself by surprisingly winning his first Roland-Garros, without losing a set of the tournament.
Then the Pole benefited from the retirement of Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty to settle at the top of the hierarchy, a place where she asserted herself by achieving a phenomenal 2022 season with (eight titles, including a new Roland-Garros and the US Open).
The Czech suffered multiple injuries (back, abs, ankle) and plunged in the rankings to reach 235th last August, when her opponent on Saturday was at the height of her dominance.
Iga Swiatek remembers well this first duel in Prague because at the time, she did not necessarily feel "in (her) place" and she remembers that Karolina Muchova had "played very well".
"Become more efficient and calmer"
Now, the 21-year-old feels at home and very legitimate in her quest for a fourth Grand Slam title, the third in Paris.
"I'm a better player. I have progressed in all compartments, whether tennis, mentally, tactically, physically, I have more experience...", she says.
Even if his defeat in the eighth-finals in January in Australia, against the future finalist Elena Rybakina who has asserted herself in recent months as one of her main opponents on the circuit, remains in her throat.
"Since then, I have completely changed my mindset to become more efficient and calmer," she explains, stressing that she feels better on clay than on hard.
"I have more weapons than on fast surfaces. I try to use that confidence to concentrate better, which allows me to play better," she said.
Opposite, she will have neither Elena Rybakina nor Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka (second), the only two players to have beaten her this year (with the exception of Barbora Krejcikova in the final in Dubai), but the unexpected Karolina Muchova and her atypical game that she says "appreciate a lot".
"She has a very good touch of the ball, she is able to accelerate the game, she has great freedom of movement and excellent technique," says Iga Swiatek who says he has shared many training sessions with his next opponent.
>> Read also: Roland-Garros: methodical, Iga Swiatek crunches Haddad Maia and qualifies for his 3rd final
Playing the "perfect match"
She is coming back from difficult years, including the 2021-2022 period when an abdominal injury kept her out for several months and at Roland Garros in May 2022, her first Major since the 2021 US Open, she injured an ankle again in the third round after beating world number four and outgoing semifinalist Maria Sakkari in the second.
So much so that after her semi-final in Australia in 2021, the former 19th at the WTA will play at 26 years old her first Grand Slam final: "a dream", but "everything comes at the right time", she philosophizes.
"I've had some tough times in the past. So I don't appreciate this moment anymore," she says.
To reach the final, she played two of her six matches in three sets, including the gruelling semifinal against Aryna Sabalenka, while Iga Swiatek again reached the final without losing a set and inflicted four overall 6-0 on her opponents in the first three rounds before benefiting from the abandonment of Lesia Tsurenko in the first set in the eighth-finals. In total, Karolina Muchova spent 12:04 battling, while Iga Swiatek took 7:41 to complete the same course.
>> Read also: Roland-Garros: after a long fight, Muchova beats Sabalenka for a place in the final
However, the Czech has a statistic of weight in her favor: she has never lost against a player in the top 3 in the world. From there to make it the favorite?
"I don't think so, no! I did not know that statistic, but it is good. It proves that I am capable of playing against them," said Karolina Muchova, who sees only one solution to lift the trophy on Saturday: "play the perfect match".
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