Poland Garros! Iga Swiatek sweeps Sofia Kenin for bonkers French Open title


Poland’s Iga Swiatek won a Grand Slam tennis tournament with the best combination of unheralded dominance in more than 40 years, taking the French Open without dropping a set, capped by a 6-4, 6-1 victory over American Sofia Kenin in Saturday’s final.

Swiatek, a 19-year-old ranked 54th in the world, won her first WTA Tour title of any kind. She had played just one prior final, the fewest of any woman to lift a major trophy since at least 1979.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Swiatek said on court. “It’s just overwhelming for me. It’s crazy. Two years ago, I won junior Grand Slam [at Wimbledon]. Now, I’m here.”

Swiatek outplayed the fourth seed Kenin, the Australian Open champion with the strongest record in Grand Slams this year. She hit 25 winners to 17 unforced errors and broke Kenin’s opening service game in each set.

“I was mentally consistent,” said Swiatek, whose routine included listening to Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” before matches and leaning on the same sports psychologist as Olympic Alpine skiing champion Mikaela Shiffrin. “I don’t know. I just wanted to play aggressive as in previous rounds. I felt like today was really stressful for me.”

Swiatek is the first woman to win a major in more than 40 years without having cracked the world’s top 47. Women have won Grand Slams with lower rankings at the time, but they were former top-20 players coming back from injury, pregnancy or retirement.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Swiatek prevailed with the most dominant run through Roland Garros in more than a decade. The last woman to win all seven matches without dropping a set or facing a tiebreak was Belgian Justine Henin in 2006 and 2007.

The last woman to win in Paris while dropping fewer games than Swiatek? Steffi Graf in 1988.

Swiatek was so suffocating in the early rounds — and the draw produced so many upsets — that she became the tournament favorite six days ago, after she trounced top seed Simona Halep in the fourth round to make her first major quarterfinal.

“Winning against Simona … I already thought about the tournament as, like, my lifetime achievement,” said Swiatek, whose father rowed for Poland at the 1988 Olympics. “Really, I had no expectations.”

Swiatek becoming the first Polish player to win a major singles title capped an unpredictable year in women’s tennis.

Kenin, 21, broke through to win the Australian Open in February, her first time getting past the fourth round of a Slam. She played Saturday’s final with tape on her left thigh, then wrapped it some more during a second-set medical timeout.

I’m not going to use this as an excuse, but my leg obviously was not the best,” said Kenin, noting it began affecting her in the third or fourth round. “After the first set, I just felt it was so tight, I couldn’t move.”

After the coronavirus pandemic-induced halt, Naomi Osaka re-emerged as a dominant force, winning the U.S. Open after failing to get out of the fourth round of her previous three majors.

With Osaka and 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia not playing Roland Garros, there were openings in the draw.

Serena Williams withdrew before her second-round match with an Achilles injury, further clouding, at age 39, her bid to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

There is currently one event left on the WTA calendar in 2020, putting focus on the next major, the Australian Open in January.

The French Open concludes with the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, live on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swiatek, who said she grew up on clay, has openly rooted for Nadal throughout her teenage years.

“He was the only player I watched when I was younger,” she said.

Swiatek marveled that she lifted the trophy on Court Philippe Chatrier, where Nadal has done so 12 times, the first coming when Swiatek had just turned 4 years old.

The scene was made all the more incredible given that Swiatek finished high school three months ago. Rather than practicing, she spent lockdown in Warsaw prepping for and taking advanced math and English exams.

She pledged to give a tennis career two years, according to RolandGarros.com.  If she was merely a top-100 player, not fighting for Grand Slam titles, she would to go to university.

Now, Swiatek looks and sounds like she’s found her calling.

“I know my game isn’t developed perfectly,” she said. “Also I think the biggest change for me is going to be to be consistency. I think this is what women’s tennis is struggling with. That’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners because we are not, like, as consistent as Rafa, Roger [Federer] and Novak.”

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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