Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin are polar opposites offering a glimpse of future | Sport

Just over eight months ago, the former world No 1 Garbiñe Muguruza arrived in the Australian Open final favoured to squash the lowly rated Sofia Kenin. In the third set, Muguruza finally made her move by rushing to a 0-40 lead at 2-2 and threatening to snatch the momentum. Instead, Kenin responded with one of the great under-pressure games of recent times. Against a far stronger opponent she stood on the baseline and blazed five winners in a row from triple break-point down. She did not lose another game.

At the time, when people were still unsure of the heights Kenin could hope to reach, it was easy to conclude that her boldness was an anomaly. However, over the past two weeks in Paris Kenin was pushed to three sets in four of her first five matches and she has constantly demonstrated her ability to elevate her level under pressure.

Against Petra Kvitova in a tense semi-final, she survived countless tight service games by producing her best tennis when it mattered. Her run at Roland Garros to a second slam final of the year has underlined that the player down 2-2 0-40 in Australia is exactly who she is.

In a sport where weapons are most valued, even now Kenin remains underrated. Very little of what she does is spectacular, but she is a great athlete with one of the best backhands in the game. She makes up for her lack of power by playing every shot with a purpose, intelligently mixing up her strokes to keep opponents off balance and playing the scoreboard so well. While players with similar physical characteristics tend to become passive in the biggest moments, Kenin takes control of her destiny.

Her rise has surprised many but there was never any doubt about the talent of Saturday’s opponent, Iga Swiatek. One day she was junior No 1 and the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ champion, the next she was rising up the WTA rankings in the lower-level tournaments, immediately catching the eye as she made a habit of destroying adult opponents at 16 years old.

What is surprising is how seamlessly that dominance has translated to the biggest stages. Swiatek reached the final by losing only 23 games, an accomplishment only Serena and Venus Williams have bettered in the 21st century. The destruction she has wreaked includes twin 6-1, 6-2 demolitions of the top seed Simona Halep and last year’s finalist, Marketa Vondrousova, in the fourth and first rounds respectively. One of the most difficult things in tennis is consolidating a big win once the hype increases: she has lost seven games since beating Halep.

Behind Swiatek’s success is a complete attacking package and she has everything she could need: a good, versatile serve, a wicked topspin forehand that pulls opponents off the court with sharp angles and she is a great athlete. Her weaponry is complemented with delicate hands and natural instincts around the court.

The Roland Garros final will mark the first adult meeting between 19-year-old Swiatek and 21-year-old Kenin, but they know each other well enough. When they faced each other in the third round of the 2016 French Open girls’ event, 15-year-old Swiatek pulled off an upset.

While Swiatek is a relaxed introvert, Kenin’s tightly strung intensity on the court is both her driving force and a trait that translates to some as stroppiness. They are stark opposites in game-style and nature, but that is what makes the future so exciting. Here they are, like Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Ashleigh Barty before them, young players fearlessly seizing their moments on the biggest stages of tennis.

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