Paris, Jun 9 (IANS): The women's singles final of the French Open 2023 on Saturday will be fought between two players on the opposite end of the spectrum -- the defending champion against the giant-killer.
The summit clash of the clay court Grand Slam will have Iga Swiatek, who is hoping to win her fourth title taking on Czech Republic's Karolina Muchova, who is chasing her maiden Grand Slam title.
Bidding to win her third French Open title, World No.1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek of Poland is the player in form, who has reached the summit clash without losing a single set.
In contrast, No.43 Karolina Muchova has already scored upset after upset in Paris, including her three-set win against No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals.
The question, the fans will be asking on Saturday is: Can the 26-year-old Czech maintain her perfect record against Top 3 opposition to stop Swiatek's clinical march to her fourth Grand Slam title?
As she bids to defend her title in Paris, Swiatek of Poland has dominated the first week, losing only nine games across four matches, including one retirement in the third round against Lesia Tsurenko. Facing Coco Gauff in a rematch of last year's final, Swiatek posted a 6-4, 6-2 win in the Round of 16.
Her toughest test came in the semifinals on Thursday when she was forced to save a set point against another giant-killer, Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, before winning 6-2, 7-6(6).
Along her way to her first major final, Muchova has knocked out three seeds, including two Top 10 players. It all began with a 7-6(5), 7-5 win over No.8 seed Maria Sakkari and continued with a 6-3, 6-2 win over 27th seed Irina Camelia Begu in the third round. After a straight-sets win over 2021 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarterfinals, Muchova stunned No.2 Aryna Sabalenka 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 7-5 in the semifinals.
Muchova saved match point from 5-2 down in the final set to end Sabalenka's bid for the No.1 ranking and quest for a second consecutive major title. Muchova has lost only one set in the tournament.
While Swiatek has had a dominant and easy run to the final, Muchova has won their only previous meeting. That match also came on clay at the 2019 Prague Open. Back then, Muchova was a wild card ranked No.106. Swiatek ranked No.96, earned her main-draw spot via qualifying. Muchova rallied from a set down to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the first round.
While they have already claimed 1300 ranking points and 1,150,000 euros for reaching the final, Saturday's winner will take home 2,000 ranking points and 2.3 million euros.
What makes the contest interesting is that both players have come through the ranks and have practised together many times as they made it through the lower rungs of the competitions.
Swiatek starts favourite in the final but is taking the challenge lightly as she knows her opponent's game quite well.
"I still feel like I know Karolina's game anyway because I played many practices with her since 2019, and I also watch her more than most of the players. Just a coincidence, but it happened. And I really like her game, honestly. I really respect her, and she's I feel like a player who can do anything, you know. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game," she said on Friday.
"She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches and I feel like I know her game pretty well. But obviously, on matches, it's a little bit different and I'll be ready no matter what."
Muchova knows she is the underdog in the final and there just wants to play at her best on Saturday.
"I don't think I will be the favourite. Yeah, it's nice. I didn't really even know about this statistic [5-0 vs. Top 3 players] if I say that.
"It just shows me that I can play against them. I can compete, and obviously, the matches are super close. Even today, match ball down, you really never know if I win or lose, but it's great to know that I have the chance to win and I win against the top players and that for sure boosts my confidence," said Muchova.
She is also aware that she will have to fight a tough battle against Swiatek.
"I will for sure need to fight. I'll need to play my best. Yeah, just to bring the best out of me and play a perfect match to be able to win a Grand Slam," said Muchova.
Swiatek has already achieved one of her goals before the French Open -- that is to retain her World No.1 ranking. She is assured of remaining on top after reaching the final as her closest rival Sabalenka lost out in the semis.
Now it is to be seen whether she can defend her title and maintain her dominance of women's tennis.