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PREVIEW-Tennis-Swiatek aiming for third title, Muchova out to spoil the party

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By Karolos Grohmann

PARIS (Reuters) – Top seed Iga Swiatek will bid to win her third French Open crown in four years on Saturday and join an exclusive club of three-time winners including Serena Williams and Monica Seles.

But the 22-year-old Pole faces an unexpected hurdle in the final with unseeded Czech Karolina Muchova having defied injuries and the odds to book her first Grand Slam final spot.

Swiatek is the overwhelming favourite, having unlocked the secrets of the Paris clay with a modern game that includes aggressive play, superb movement and a perception and anticipation of the ball that is second to none.

She has confirmed her status as the world’s top player, having also lifted the U.S. Open title last year.

With an ability to fire off winners even under extreme pressure, Swiatek has few real challengers in the women’s game at the moment.

She is not the muscled athlete that Williams was, but what she lacks in raw power she makes up with pure athleticism, with her game having earned the nickname ‘Iga’s bagel factory’, for her ability to dominate matches and win sets without her opponent getting on the scoreboard.

On Saturday, however, she faces a different puzzle from the ones she is used to solving on the tour week in week out.

The 26-year-old Muchova, whose career has been plagued by injuries, stunned the tennis world by defeating world number two Aryna Sabalenka in three sets after saving a match point in their semi-final on Thursday.

ALL-ROUND GAME

That was where the world got to really see what her game is all about.

It is not one based on baseline power which has long dominated the sport.

“I really like her game, honestly,” said Swiatek of her opponent, who beat the Pole in their one encounter back in 2019.

“I really respect her, and she’s a player who can do anything, She has great touch. She can also speed up the game.”

“She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements and has a great technique. So I watched her matches and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

Muchova does not like to be pushed back and certainly does not have a one-dimensional game.

Against Sabalenka she used her superb one-handed slice backhand to counter her opponent’s immense power on the forehand.

She also landed drop shots to force her to the net where she outclassed the Belarusian, displaying what is arguably the most natural volleying ability in the women’s game.

“I think I have it like that in everything in life, I don’t really want to be like anyone else,” Muchova said.

Her career record against top-three ranked players speaks for itself, having won all five encounters and lost none.

Whether she can replicate that form against Swiatek remains to be seen but for those lucky fans on Court Philippe Chatrier the stage is set for a clash of styles and for what could turn out to be the most entertaining match of the entire tournament.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis)

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