Fittingly, the two hottest players on tour will meet Sunday (1 p.m. local) for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia title. Iga Swiatek will take her 27-match win streak into the final, where she will meet Ons Jabeur, who has currently won 11 straight matches.
For Swiatek, she acknowledges what she’s accomplished but she’s “trying to avoid all that fuss and just play well right now.”
The talk of a champion.
Will Swiatek keep rolling or can Jabeur, who had a much more difficult semifinal encounter, keep her own streak going? Here’s our case for each player.
With 27 consecutive victories and 40 of her past 41 sets under her belt, the question isn’t whether Iga Swiatek will win, but whether she’ll be tested.
During her run to the Miami Open title, she dropped 4.3 games per match. In Stuttgart, she lost 7.5 games per match. This past week, she’s conceded only 17 games en route to the final – an average of 4.3 games per match dropped through five encounters.
That's before you even get to her dominance in finals. Swiatek won all seven of her ITF finals, dropping a set only once (as a 15-year-old against Martina Di Giuseppe at the 2017 Bergamo ITF W15). She has won seven of her past eight tour-level finals. In those seven, no one has managed to take more than five games from her, and each of those opponents was a player who had reached the Top 5 in the rankings.
Polona Hercog stands alone as the only player who has defeated Swiatek in a professional final (6-3, 3-6, 6-3 at Lugano 2019 in Swiatek’s first final).
The most emphatic of Swiatek's finals came Rome last year, where she knocked off Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0. Swiatek is sweeping through the field across multiple tournaments and surfaces, but if anything, the slow clay of Rome (and Roland Garros) only enhance her game. It also means that there's the motivation to pull off a feat she's yet to accomplish: a successful title defence.
Swiatek's opponent in the final, Ons Jabeur, is one of the few players against whom she still has something to prove. This is the first time she has encountered the Tunisian this year. Jabeur won both of their 2021 meetings, at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, and leads the head-to-head 2-1 overall.
But Swiatek has showed this season she can reverse tough losses, turning around head-to-head deficits against Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka. And Swiatek will hold a significant advantage in coming into the final fresher.
Swiatek, who skipped Madrid, has won all four of her matches in straight sets this week. By contrast, the Madrid champion Jabeur has barely stopped for breath in over two weeks, and narrowly escaped Sakkari in the quarterfinals and Daria Kasatkina in the semifinals. -- Alex Macpherson
It would have been easy and entirely understandable if Jabeur was content with another quarterfinal run. But down 6-1, 5-2 to No.4 Maria Sakkari, the World No.7 put her foot down: no, she was not ready for this run to be over. She proceeded to win 10 of the last 11 games to stun Sakkari for her first Top 5 win on clay.
Against Daria Kasatkina in the semifinals, again Jabeur found herself with one foot on the plane to Paris. And again, the she refused to lose. Staring down match point deep in the third set, Jabeur smacked a forehand off the sideline. Two points later she wiped another line with a drop shot winner. Two games later, yet another comeback was complete.
It's no longer about deep runs for Jabeur, who sits behind Swiatek at No.2 on the Race to the WTA Finals. Both women are on double-digit win streaks, and after joking earlier in the week that she was Swiatek's co-pilot, the affable Tunisian said it's every woman for herself on Sunday.
"So tomorrow the plane will crash and there is only one parachute," Jabeur said. "I hope I take it."
So what does Jabeur need to do to stop Swiatek, who seems to be running on pure jet fuel? It's about belief, and Jabeur has concrete reasons to believe she can be the Swiatek stopper. As Alex already pointed out, Jabeur has won their last two matches.
"Playing Iga, someone who didn't lost a match since ever, I think that [what] was maybe missing [for] the other players [is] to believe more that they can beat her," Jabeur said. "She was playing unbelievable in Miami-Indian Wells. Now she's playing great. [But] she's a human being. People should know that."
No.1 Iga Swiatek (34) and No.7 Ons Jabeur (25) lead the tour in wins this season.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 14, 2022
Swiatek (21) and Jabeur (15) also lead the tour in wins at WTA 1000 tournaments this season.#ibi22 pic.twitter.com/7xlqtAEAZx
Jabeur has the ability to unwind Swiatek with her variety, varying her pace between flat shots and spin. She also has her devastating drop shot, which not only wins points but leaves opponents increasingly frustrated. It's notable that the only player to win six games in a set from Swiatek in Rome was Bianca Andreescu, who used her variety to keep the ball in uncomfortable hitting positions.
In Madrid, Jabeur admitted she was rattled ahead of the final against Jessica Pegula. The reason? She had too much time to think about the biggest match of her career. That won't be a problem in Rome, where the non-stop schedule won't leave her a chance to overthink the moment.
"I feel in Rome I didn't have the time to think," Jabeur said. "The thing is, it's nice not to stress about it. In Madrid, I had a lot of time [between] the semifinal and the finals. It was horrible to wait. Maybe I take the great experience I had in Madrid, to have it here in Rome."
Jabeur is bidding to become the third woman to win both Madrid and Rome back-to-back, with Dinara Safina and Serena Williams accomplishing the feat before her. A win would also cross another milestone off her list, as she would leave Rome with her Top 5 debut on Monday.
"I had my first baby in Madrid," Jabeur said, laughing. "You know how much I love twins, so... It's the brother or sister, Rome." -- Courtney Nguyen