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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Reigning Roland Garros champion lga Swiatek and US Open champion Coco Gauff have quite a history.

It's been a horror show for Gauff.

More: Swiatek Sweeps Sabalenka for Third Rome Crown

Down a break early, Swiatek sped through eight of the last 11 games to charge into the Rome final with a 6-4, 6-3 conquest of Coco Gauff last week.

Swiatek has won 10 of 11 meetings vs. Gauff sweeping 21 of 23 sets.

While Gauff showed a willingness to amp up the pace of her forehand and try to take it to Swiatek in Rome, the powerful Pole has now claimed all eight sets they've played on clay.

So how can Gauff solve her Swiatek problem?

Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst Martina Navratilova offered two key changes Gauff must make to challenge Swiatek.

1. Shift the grip of her forehand, over time, from a full western grip to a semi-western grip.

2. Serve bigger and earn more free points on first serve.

In a conference call with the media today to promote Tennis Channel's Roland Garros coverage starting on Sunday at 5 a.m. Eastern with first ball action live, Navratilova said Gauff "can dominate" if she improves her forehand.

"Well, you've got to improve the forehand somehow," Navratilova told Tennis Now on the Tennis Channel conference call. "You can get away with beating a lot of people with it, but it's just not as solid as it needs to be at the top of the game for her to really start dominating.

"And she can dominate, but the forehand needs to get better."

The legendary left-handers said shifting the grip slightly to a more semi-western would give Gauff a bigger strike zone on her forehand and theoretically should help her handle the low ball better, too.

"I would tweak the grip a little bit -- you don't have to tweak it too much," Navratilova said. "You can just do it a little bit at a time so that it still feels comfortable.

"But she needs a bigger sweet spot, a bigger hitting zone on the forehand. It's a small hitting zone with such an extreme grip and it just limits you.

"I think on clay she should be okay. Hard courts, high bouncing hard courts she's okay, but low bounces it's really difficult to find an opening with it."

While a grip change may sound drastic, consider Gauff already makes the grip change in doubles when she transitions from baseline to net and switches to a more continental volley grip.

Given Gauff is already one of the sport's most dangerous returners, Navratilova points out another benefit from the grip change is when returning she would not need to move her racquet hand as much with a more neutral grip.

World No. 3 Gauff has committed 213 double faults this season, most by any Top 100 player. Navratilova asserts Gauff, who leads the Tour in return games won, must cut down on the double faults and make her first serve a bigger weapon in order to win free points and pressure Swiatek. 

"You don't want to keep harping on it, but also make her serve into a bigger weapon, a lot more solid," Navratilova said. "She's got the height. She's got the physique for it, the strength and the technique, as well as the physique.

"I think she just needs to make that serve a little bit more of a weapon, get some free points."

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty