Iga Swiatek finally got to meet Serena Williams at this US Open.
Ons Jabeur finally got to meet Andy Roddick.
With those items crossed off their to-do lists, Swiatek and Jabeur will try to take care of other significant business – winning a championship – when they play each other Saturday in the first final at Flushing Meadows for each.
Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland who is ranked No.1, and Jabeur, a 28-year-old from Tunisia who is No.5 and will rise to No.2 on Monday, have been the two dominant figures in women’s tennis in 2022. So it certainly seems fitting that they are the last two players competing at the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.
It is the sort of year-long success from one or two players the WTA has not seen lately, especially as Williams wound down her career.
The closest thing to a player asserting herself over the past couple of seasons had been Ash Barty, who won three majors and led the rankings before suddenly retiring at age 25 in March. Swiatek succeeded her at No.1 amid a 37-match unbeaten run that was the longest on the women’s tour in a quarter-century.
“Before, we just had Serena, you know? Serena cannot play all the tournaments, and she was pretty consistent. That really inspired a lot of players,” Jabeur said. “Yeah, definitely it is better for us to be consistent and do great results. We are trying to do that. Iga did inspire us with her winning streak, and we are going to continue fighting.”
The two finalists, whose head-to-head is tied 2-all, are first and second on the tour in match wins this season: Swiatek is 54-7, Jabeur is 44-13.
They also are first and second in finals reached this season: Swiatek is into her seventh, Jabeur her sixth.
One big difference, though, Swiatek is 6-0 in those finals – and has won nine in a row overall – while Jabeur is 2-3.
“Iga never loses finals,” Jabeur said, “so it’s going to be very tough.”
Another big difference: Swiatek already owns two grand slam trophies, from the French Open in 2020 and this June. She can become the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to collect two major titles in one season.
Jabeur lost her only previous Slam title match at Wimbledon in July, when she became the first Arab woman and first African woman to reach a major final in the professional era, which started in 1968.
She made it two in a row with an easy-as-the-score-looks 6-1, 6-3 victory over Caroline Garcia in the semifinals on Friday morning (AEST). Swiatek had to put much more effort into her semifinal win, coming back from a set down, then twice from a break down in the third, to beat Aryna Sabalenka 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 by taking the last four games and 16 of the last 20 points.
Swiatek also needed to overturn a one-set deficit in the fourth round, and is quite adept at making in-match adjustments when she needs to. That wasn’t always the case, but she’s made progress in that area with the help of a sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, who travels with her.
“Earlier, I felt like my emotions kind of were taking over and I was panicking a little bit when I was losing. For sure, I grew up, I learned a lot. And the work we’ve put in with Daria, for sure , helped,” Swiatek said.
“Right now it’s just easier for me to actually logically think what I can change. And I feel like I have more skills to do that than one type of way to play.”
Two weeks ago, before the US Open began, she proudly posted on social media a photo of her and Williams, with Swiatek writing that she “finally found the courage” to speak to the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
And Jabeur was just as thrilled about getting to talk to – and hug – her idol, Roddick, the 2003 US Open champion who was the last American man to win a tennis major.
“I didn’t know: Should I shake his hand? Hug? I don’t know. But I went for the hug, of course,” Jabeur said. “He was very nice. He told me he’s following me and supporting me, which is incredible.”
Asked by a reporter why she became a fan of Roddick years ago, Jabeur mentioned his serve and his personality.
“He’s handsome, too. I had to say that,” she said with a wink and a smile. “Don’t tell my husband.”
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