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Swiatek ready to face Paolini in Roland-Garros women's final on TSN

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PARIS (AP) — The contrasts between the French Open finalists are obvious: Iga Swiatek, who turned 23 last week, already owns four Grand Slam titles, including three in Paris. Jasmine Paolini, 28, had never been past the second round at any major tournament 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 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 at No. 1 in the WTA rankings and was guaranteed to remain there even if she had lost in the first round in Paris. Paolini is currently No. 15 but is going to make her debut in the top 10 on Monday, no matter what happens against Swiatek on Saturday.

“Iga is an unbelievable player. ... So young, but so many achievements and Grand Slams,” Paolini said. “She’s doing well week by week, and that’s not easy. So I have huge respect for her, but ... my goal is to step on court Saturday and try to enjoy the match and to enjoy that moment.”

Swiatek is, indeed, a known quantity. She has 21 career titles in all, including four just this year, when she is 44-4. As of her semifinal victory Thursday over U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff, Swiatek's career record is 325-70, a winning percentage of .823 — which is quite impressive yet somehow pales in comparison to the .944 she boasts at the French Open.

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

“The surface makes my game better. My grip allows me to spin more. I can play more defense 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, who also will participate in the doubles final this weekend, is more of 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.

There is no doubt who is considered likelier to win on Saturday: Swiatek is a -1100 money-line favorite, according to BetMGM Sportsbook.

The 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) 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.”

She and partner Sara Errani — the 2012 runner-up to Maria Sharapova in singles in Paris — reached the final in doubles by winning their semifinal against Marta Kostyuk and Elena-Gabriela Ruse 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Friday.

Paolini says Errani offers support before singles matches by saying, “Believe in yourself!"

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 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.”

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis