United Cup semifinals: Swiatek hopes to lead Poland past tough French squad

This year’s United Cup event was abbreviated to a best-of-three format per match, while the three-city tournament from 2023 was reduced to two, Brisbane and Perth.

Last year, after beating Italy in Brisbane on a Wednesday to reach the semifinals, Poland had one day to fly to Sydney and prepare for the Friday semifinals. Poland was shut out 5-0 by a United States team that had played its group matches in Sydney.

This year, No.1-seeded Poland beat China in Perth on Wednesday and had two off days before playing France in the Sydney semifinals. A big advantage for an Iga Swiatek-led team?

 

Here’s how Saturday’s final four breaks down:

No. 1 Poland vs. No. 4 France

For a brief moment, it looked like No.14 seeded Norway was going to pull off a huge upset against France. The tie was 1-all Thursday night and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, serving at 4-5, was down three set points.

“I’ve been facing this kind of situation so many times in my career,” he said later, “so I know I just have to think …”

Caroline Garcia, smiling, broke in, saying, “He have full confidence in my abilities.”

This drew laughter from the French team, for they had seen he and Garcia escape, leveling the first set at 5 when Garcia flicked a backhand volley winner. The final was 7-5, 6-4 and France was into the semifinals, where the degree of difficulty will be far greater.

Team Poland is the top seed for a reason. Swiatek is ranked No.1 and Hubert Hurkacz No.9 among their peers. Poland won eight of nine matches in ties against Brazil, Spain and China — with Swiatek figuring in five of those victories. France is 7-2, with Garcia also in on five.

Swiatek has won three of four matches against Garcia, most recently last year’s Beijing quarterfinals, in three sets.

“Obviously Iga is quite impressive every single time she competes,” Garcia said. “We played some good matches in the past, so let’s see what is going to happen in this one.”

Said Swiatek, “I feel like I’m playing well and I make progress comparing to last year. I feel like I have more skills to play on these faster hard courts. I just feel like I can really be in a good place physically and mentally.”

Hurkacz and Adrian Mannarino have split four previous matches.

“Yeah,” Mannarino said, “I got my chance. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s probably 55-45 for him, so we’ll see.”

 

Schedule of play, 10:30 a.m. (7:30 p.m. ET)

Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. Adrian Mannarino (FRA)
Iga Swiatek (POL) vs. Caroline Garcia (FRA)
Iga Swiatek (POL) / Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. [4] Caroline Garcia (FRA) / Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
No. 15 Australia vs. No.16 Germany

Team Australia will have the homefield advantage in what promises to be a raucous Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, but based on the head-to-head records, it will be a monumental challenge.

Ajla Tomljanovic has lost to Angelique Kerber all three times they’ve played, most recently at Indian Wells in 2021. Alex de Minaur, the man they call Demon, has lost six of seven career matches to Alexander Zverev.

De Minaur, of course, has already beaten the odds. His upset of Novak Djokovic helped lift the Aussies past Serbia in the quarterfinals. It ended his 43-match win streak in Australia that stretched across six years.

Germany needed a mixed doubles win to upend No.2-seeded Greece, with Laura Siegemund and Zverev defeating Maria Sakkari and Petros Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-3. It was the first action for Siegemund.

“I really just tried to focus on my job,” Siegemund said. “It was a pretty big match with the weight on our shoulders trying to carry the team forward to the semis.”

However, if one of the Aussie singles players manages to score an upset, their odds improve dramatically. That’s because the mixed doubles team of Storm Hunter and Matthew Ebden is 3-0 in this year’s United Cup matches.

After losing to Great Britain in the opening group-stage tie, Australia has rallied under captain Lleyton Hewitt.

“It’s been a lot of fun the whole week,” the former ATP Tour No. 1 told reporters. “Everyone has had each other’s back. You see everyone come out and support each other.

“That’s the Aussie way. It makes it easy for them to go out and play for each other out there.”

Said Hunter, the WTA World No.1 in doubles, “Representing Australia is just the best feeling in the world. I love that pressure. Having Matty by my side, we have really gelled on the court. I have a lot of trust in him on the court, which makes it a lot easier.”

Schedule of play, not before 5:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. ET)

Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) vs. Angelique Kerber (GER)
Not before 7 p.m.: Alex de Minaur (AUS) vs. Alexander Zverev (GER)
Storm Hunter / Matthew Ebden (AUS) vs. Laura Siegemund / Alexander Zverev (GER)

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