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.
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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