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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, June 6, 2023


Knocked to the dirt by a Coco Gauff body blow, Iga Swiatek did not drop another game scoring a 6-4, 6-2 sweep surging into her third Roland Garros semifinal.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Coming face-to-face with Iga Swiatek at net, Coco Gauff took her crack at the champion.

Blasting a backhand drive right into the body, Gauff knocked Swiatek down to the dirt with a stinging body blow to earn break point in the second set.

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Rising from the dirt, Swiatek responded with a flurry of forehands to knock Gauff right out of Roland Garros.

In a rematch of the 2022 final, Swiatek stormed through five of the last six games maintaining her mastery of Gauff 6-4, 6-2 to roll into her third Roland Garros semifinal.

Continuing her dirt dominance, Swiatek scored her 12th straight win in Paris raising her Roland Garros record to 26-2.

"I just feel after the match pretty satisfied with my game," Swiatek told Tennis Channel's Jon Wertheim afterward. "I'm pretty happy I was able to make it in two sets.

"In the first set, in the important moments, I was the one that was more solid so for sure it wasn't easy especially with the wind today, but I'm happy I'm in the semifinal."

The victory vaults Swiatek into tomorrow's semifinals against Beatriz Haddad Maia, who made history as the first Brazilian woman in the Open Era to advance to the French Open semifinals with a 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 win over Ons Jabeur.

The 14th-seeded Haddad Maia, who beat Sara Sorribes Tormo in a three hour, 51-minute fourth-round epic that was the longest WTA match of the year, defeated Swiatek in their lone prior meeting. Haddad Maia scored a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win over Swiatek at the 2022 Toronto on hard court.

The rematch carries ranking ramifications: Swiatek must reach her third Roland Garros final to retain world No. 1.

"For sure she's the fighter, and she showed even today that she's fighting until the last ball," Swiatek said of Haddad Maia. "It pays off. For sure you have to kind of be ready even when you feel like you're leading or whatever. You have to play every point 100%.

"We played in Toronto, and I would say actually this was one of the matches that had similar conditions in terms of the wind. It was also windy that day.

"Obviously surface is different, so we'll see."

I've never played against her on clay.Two-time champion Swiatek walked onto Court Chatrier knowing a loss today would be double defeat: if Gauff prevailed, Swiatek's Roland Garros reign would end and she'd lose the world no. 1 ranking she's held for 62 weeks to world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka.

On her clay comfort zone, Swiatek tormented Gauff's forehand return winning 15 of 20 second-serve points and saving four of five break points in an 88-minute sweep.

It was Swiatek's seventh win over Gauff in as many meetings as she's swept all 14 sets they've played.

An oppressive Swiatek continues to squeeze the field. Swiatek has surrendered just 15 games in five tournament wins dishing out four bagels in nine sets she's played in Paris.

The 19-year-old Gauff came out with a clear game plan: hit high loopy forehands down the line to the Swiatek flat backhand wing, force the mid-court reply and attack it.

"I think tactically it was a little bit different, but also, you know, the conditions because Coco I think used the wind a little bit more," Swiatek said. "Last year I don't think it was windy on the final, but I don't really remember.

"Yeah, for sure it was more tight in the first set, so I'm pretty happy in those important moments I was the one that was solid and could put a little more pressure on Coco."

The top seed drew first break blood. Gauff slapped a backhand into net as Swiatek broke at love for 3-1. A sloppy Swiatek handed back the break in the fifth game.

Fending off break point in the eighth game, Gauff stepped in and blistered a backhand winner down the line. That strike helped her hold to even the set, 4-4.

Looping high, topspin forehand down the lines, Gauff challenged Swiatek to generate her own pace off shoulder-high backhand balls. That tactic helped the American earn a 15-30 in the ninth game, but that was as close as Gauff would come on this day.

Taking quick, short preparation steps across the clay, Swiatek stung her forehand in lacerating drives to coming back to hold for 5-4.

Serving to extend the set, Gauff got a dose of Swiatek's speed and closing skills. The Pole ran down a short volley and poked a pass down the line to open the 10th game. Gauff wasn't making an impression with her first serve and committed a couple of errors to face triple set point at love-40.

"I tried to change up a different way of how I played," Gauff said. "I don't know. Obviously I didn't win, so it didn't work, but I think on certain points it did.

"But, yeah, I have to figure something out."

Dancing across the clay, Swiatek was turning her hips and shoulders into vicious strikes.

The world No. 1 whipped a forehand winner to slam shut the first set with a love break and a clenched fist.

Credit Gauff for trying a different tactic after facing career-long futility vs. Swiatek. The challenge for Gauff is Swiatek's forehand is a much more damaging stroke and the teenager sometimes struggled to read the direction of that drive. When Gauff did create break-point chances, her forehand return often let her down.

"I was surprised because when I was playing against the wind, sometimes these forehands were just stopping, and you had to work twice to kind of get to them," Swiatek said. "I don't know if that was her tactics or it just happened because of the wind, you know. So I'm happy that I managed to get the win anyway and be aggressive anyway."

The two-time champion owned a flawless 22-0 French Open record when winning the opening set. Gauff boldly took the battle right at the champion in the early stages of the second set.

The teenager hit a second serve ace to hold in the second game of set two. Then Gauff went to work hitting her shoulder-high forehand to Swiatek's two-hander causing a netted replay for double break point. Gauff framed a forehand on the first break then sailed a forehand return off a second serve on the second break point.

Deadlocked at deuce, Gauff drop-shotted, drew the world No. 1 forward then banged her backhand right at Swiatek knocking her down with a blow to the knee for a third break point. It was a legal and correct play, but it only inspired the champion to close the show.

"I don't really know if that was her only option or not, but I know Coco is a nice person, and she wouldn't mean it," Swiatek said. "Nothing personal. It happens."

Afterward, Gauff said "I didn't try to hit her" and pointed out she had missed a similar shot a few points earlier, which compelled her to play through the middle of the court when she got another sitter.

"I apologized after, but I think she knows that's part of the game," Gauff said. "If you hit a bad ball and you decide to run to the net, there's always a risk that you get hit, and there's always the risk that the person might miss trying to avoid you. It worked the first time. The second time it didn't work.

"But if I was in her position, I wouldn't be mad at me either because she ran forward."

Swiatek arose, a swath of red clay streaking the shoulder of her white On apparel, and dodged danger when Gauff pushed a forehand approach long.

A scrambling Swiatek survived the knockdown with a gritty hold for 2-1.

Strengthened by that scrappy exchange, Swiatek was stepping into the court pummeling her forehand with damaging intent.

The US Open champion rattled out forehand errors earning double break point in the sixth game. Playing over Gauff's head with a brilliant loopy lob, Swiatek broke for a 4-2 lead.

The 22-year-old Swiatek sprinted through the finish line winning 12 of the final 15 points and breaking twice in succession to send Gauff out of singles though her doubles dreams, with partner Jessica Pegula, still burn brightly.

Swiatek improved her 2023 record to 33-6, including a 17-2 clay-court record, and should have plenty of fuel in the tank to take on comeback queen Haddad Maia.


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