Who will win the women's title, Iga Swiatek or Jasmine Paolini?

PARIS — Iga Swiatek will be looking to win her fourth French Open crown on Saturday against Jasmine Paolini.

Swiatek is the red-hot favorite heading into the final, as she looks to capture the tournament title for the fourth time in six years. Paolini, meanwhile, came into the event as an outsider, with her previous best finish here in the second round. But after a brilliant run of form, Paolini made her first Grand Slam final.

Here’s how each player could prevail in the French Open final.

Why Iga Swiatek will win

Swiatek’s the dominant force on clay. She can leave players in a spin. Marketa Vondrousova said after her quarterfinal exit that Swiatek has the ability to make you go “crazy.” Coco Gauff was unable to halt the Swiatek machine in the semifinals, as Swiatek came through 6-2, 6-4. Swiatek said after that win her confidence is “high” on clay. But this hasn’t been a completely straightforward French Open for her.

She had to save a match point against Naomi Osaka in their epic second-round clash, and the emotion broke through afterward, with footage broadcast of her in tears in the gym. She puts sky-high expectations on herself, and in that moment, she believed her tournament was over. But since then, Swiatek has been an astonishing force.

She breezed through her third-round match against Marie Bouzkova and then needed just 40 minutes to dispatch Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0. It was the quickest match of her tour-level career. Vondrousova and Gauff fell to similar fates, leaving Swiatek on course for yet another title.

Swiatek has an incredible winning percentage of 93 here, and the greats are taking notice. Seven-time French Open singles champion Chris Evert was an analyst for Swiatek’s semifinal against Gauff and was asked whether Swiatek would ever catch her. Evert said Gauff would surpass her. The victory over Gauff also matched Swiatek’s best run on clay — an 18-match spurt.

In short, to beat Swiatek on clay is like attempting to tackle Everest. With the 2020, 2022 and 2023 trophies already secured, it’ll need something truly incredible from Paolini to stop her winning her fourth Suzanne-Lenglen cup.

Why Jasmine Paolini will win

Paolini has been beating the odds, embracing the great unknown of a Grand Slam run. Her best return before this run to the final at Roland Garros was reaching the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open, but there’s something bubbling in Italian tennis at the moment, with Paolini in the final and Jannik Sinner being crowned world No. 1 on the men’s side on Monday.

So amid the resurgence of Italian tennis, Paolini is looking to become the first to win the French Open since Francesca Schiavone triumphed here in 2010. Paolini, who won at the Dubai Championships earlier in the year, came through her first two rounds in straight sets and had to battle past Bianca Andreescu in three sets in the third round.

She then came back from a set down to beat Elina Avanesyan before knocking out one of the pre-tournament favorites in Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals. It was just her third career win over a top 5 player, while this is her greatest run on clay.

She had to hurdle a tricky tie against 17-year-old Mirra Andreeva in the semifinals, but came through in straight sets, saving five break points in the first set and then breaking Andreeva three times in the second. She outhit the teenage prodigy with 14 winners to 10 and made just 10 unforced errors compared to Andreeva’s 29. It’s a model of consistency.

A couple of hours after the win, Paolini described herself as “nothing special,” but an involuntary smile broke out on her face whenever anyone mentioned she was in her first Grand Slam final.

“It seems something impossible, but it’s true, and I’m really happy to be in this position. It’s something crazy for me,” she said.

So Paolini heads into Saturday’s final with form and confidence. And her greatest asset? There’s zero pressure on her. She’s already showed her ability to scrap through games if needed, like she did in the arm wrestle against Andreeva, while she — like Swiatek– has an ability to stay in a rally and frustrate opponents.

What will happen?

Paolini will have plenty of morale-sapping tales to read about what it’s like to face Swiatek on clay. Gauff said after her semifinal that Swiatek is “just more comfortable moving, and the ball slows down, so she’s able to dictate the point how she wants.”

So that’s Paolini’s task — to somehow disrupt Swiatek’s rhythm. Gauff tried to be aggressive against Swiatek, and Osaka also went on the attack. That’s perhaps the best option, but it’s small percentage tennis — focusing on those areas of the court where the margins between success and failure are minimal.

They have crafted a verb here in France in honor of Swiatek: “to Nadalise” — comparing her dominance to that of the Spanish legend. “We’ll see in 14 years if the journey is similar, but I’m proud of myself that I’m playing consistently here and that I’m mentioned in the same sentence as Rafa [Nadal]. That’s cool,” Swiatek said.

Paolini perhaps never allowed herself to dream of being in a Grand Slam final, but she’s ready to make history. “Iga is an unbelievable player, she’s doing well week by week, and that’s not easy,” Paolini said. “I have huge respect for her, but my goal is to step on court Saturday and try to enjoy the moment and to play a good match.”

It’s very hard to see anything other than Swiatek coming through this and securing her fourth French Open title. Paolini has already upset the pecking order here, but this one is likely to be one step too far.

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