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Swiatek in ominous French Open form as Sabalenka targets final

Two-time champion Iga Swiatek looks to reach a third French Open final in four years on Thursday while Aryna Sabalenka puts her 12-match Grand Slam winning run on the line in the Roland Garros semi-finals.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek celebrates winning her quarterfinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Coco Gauff of the U.S. in two sets 6-4, 6-2, at the Roland Garros stadium(AP)

Swiatek is bidding to become the first woman to successfully defend the title in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007 after dispatching Coco Gauff in a rematch of last year’s final.

“I’m pretty happy to be in the semi-final again at Roland Garros. It’s a great achievement no matter how the tournament is going to finish,” said Swiatek, who has yet to drop a set.

Standing in her way is 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, the first Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1968 following her upset of Ons Jabeur, last year’s Wimbledon and US Open runner-up.

World number one Swiatek is 26-2 in five visits to Roland Garros but lost her only previous match with Haddad Maia on the hard courts of Toronto last August.

“Obviously surface is different, so we’ll see. I’ve never played against her on clay. Again, as before any other match, I will kind of focus on myself and what I want to do on court,” said the Pole, also the 2022 US Open champion.

Haddad Maia follows in the footsteps of seven-time major winner Maria Bueno who was the last Brazilian woman in the semi-finals of a major at the US Open 55 years ago.

The 27-year-old left-hander had never got past the second round of a Grand Slam before this French Open.

“It’s a very tough one,” said Haddad Maia of facing Swiatek for a spot in Saturday’s final.

“I’ll leave everything on the court. I have nothing to lose. I will try to go for it.”

Swiatek has conceded only 15 games this tournament, needing a mere five hours and 32 minutes on court. In contrast, Haddad Maia has been out there nearly 13 hours.

“It happens sometimes in tournaments where I was winning matches pretty easily, and then I just continued, you know,” said Swiatek, downplaying concerns that she yet to be properly tested.

“I feel like in terms of having these couple of tougher situations and really important points, you’re just not going to feel rusty when it happens again.”

‘I’m just a tennis player’

Sabalenka, the second seed from Belarus, has swept aside all-comers this fortnight despite being at the centre of a tense stand-off with Ukrainian players over her country’s role in the ongoing war.

After skipping two press conferences, Sabalenka insisted she is not a supporter of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a key military ally of Russia.

“I don’t want my country to be involved in any conflict. I said it many times. You have my position. You have my answer,” said Sabalenka, as she condemned the war in Ukraine outright.

“I don’t want sport to be involved in politics, because I’m just a 25-year-old tennis player.”

Sabalenka, who has won 17 of her past 18 Grand Slam matches, will become the new world number one if she goes on to win the French Open.

Unseeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic awaits her in the last four.

“I’m really glad for this run, and that I got my ranking a little bit better than it was,” said the 43rd-ranked Muchova who ended last year at 149.

“I just take it step by step, and I’m really glad where I am now. I’ll try to push my limits for sure. And who knows where the limits are.”

Muchova matched her best run at a major by knocking out 2021 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the Roland Garros semi-finals for the first time.

The 26-year-old also made the last four of the Australian Open in 2021. She is guaranteed to break into the top 20 after the French Open.

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