Jasmine Paolini and Iga Swiatek
Jasmine Paolini and Iga Swiatek will face off in the 2024 French Open Championship. | jasmine_paolini, @rolandgarros
(1) Iga Swiatek vs. (12) Jasmine Paolini

Many tennis pundits said that the second-round match between Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka had the quality of a Grand Slam final.

Maybe. It was certainly a good match. There are lots of good matches. But no one lifted a trophy after that match. It counted the exact same as all 31 of the other second-round matches.

So did Zverev’s first-round defeat of Rafael Nadal. Epic. Historical. Consequential. And yet, only the first round.

Iga Swiatek still had to go out and win four more matches to get here, and she still has to win one more against a player playing the best tennis of her career if she wants to pay off that second-round battle.

Look at the set scores in Swiatek’s last four matches though:

6-4, 6-2 | 6-0, 6-0 | 6-0, 6-2 | 6-2, 6-4

The last two matches were against the fifth and third seeds.

Iga is dialed in. She’s not only the best player in the world, but the best player on this surface. Watch her response when asked to assess her confidence on clay:

“High,” she said with a shrug and a chuckle.

No further analysis necessary, really. She gets the job done. It’s who she is.

Enter effervescent twelfth-seeded Italian, Jasmine Paolini.

At 28 years-old, Paolini has been making waves for the first time in her career lately, highlighted by her victory at the WTA 1000 event in Dubai while unseeded.

Her career-high ranking when she arrived at Roland Garros was No. 12. With her result so far, she is guaranteed to move up to No. 7, and can become No. 5 if she wins the title.

For context, she began the year at No. 29.

That’s a fast climb into uncharted territory. Her life is already changing, and a French Open champtionship would turn it upside down.

It’s no secret that she’ll be in deep waters against Swiatek, the three-time Roland Garros champion going for her fourth overall and third in a row here.

The win in Dubai should help calm Paolini’s nerves. It doesn’t compare to a Grand Slam, but any kind of recent title gives a player a proof-point that they belong here.

Match Breakdown

Swiatek will do what Swiatek does. She will grind Paolini down on every single point, a la her idol Rafael Nadal. She will not blow Paolini off the court, but rather smother and suffocate everything Paolini sends her way.

Defense wins championships, and Iga has the best defense on the planet.

Paolini will ride her big forehand as much as she can. That’s her only real option. Swiatek’s defense can only be overcome by blasting through it. That’s what Osaka did so well (54 winners) and she came within a single point of scoring the upset.

Keeping that up for two of three sets is a tall order, though.

Paolini’s secret weapon might actually be the crowd. They like Swiatek, but will probably get behind the underdog because this particular underdog has the brightest, sunniest demeanor you could imagine.

It’s no surprise that being lovable makes people love you. Coupled with great talent and late-career achievements, Paolini is summoning loads of support.

If she can pull off the upset on Saturday, that big smile will shine even brighter.

Winner: Iga Swiatek