Iga Swiatek, 21, is the new face of dominance, and women’s tennis is better for it.
While Iga Swiatek hit the closing service winner against Coco Gauff in Saturday’s final, she didn’t just win the French Open. She won her second Grand Slam title, her 35th victory in a row, her sixth consecutive title. She went 9-0 in the final, 18-0 in sets in the final.
When was the last time we saw a player dominate women’s tennis like that?
To understand the weight of Swiatek’s success, one need only look at the caliber players whose records she has equaled or surpassed. Prior to Saturday’s summit clash, she was tied with Serena Williams for an unbeaten streak of 34 (last win at Wimbledon 2013). By winning the final, she equaled Venus Williams’ streak of 35 victories (last victory at Linz 2000), which is the best of this century. In capturing her sixth straight title, she tied Justine Henin’s run in 2007-08. At 21, she is the youngest woman to win multiple Grand Slam titles since Maria Sharapova at the US Open in 2006.
More importantly, she did all of this with a massive target on her back.
“I want to thank my team. I’m pretty happy because every piece came together,” Swiatek said at the trophy presentation ceremony. “Two years ago, winning was incredible. I feel like I worked hard and the pressure was great. I would love to be back, and oh my. It seems to me that I need to know more.
Over the past five years, as women’s tennis has gone through a carousel of champions, very few favorites have been able to handle the billing and the hype that comes with it. Ash Barty was an exception. Naomi Osaka maybe.
Swiatek recently revealed she cried after Barty walked away from the game, aged 25, in February. By default, the Pole took over as world number 1. Although reluctant at first, Swiatek became a Tour leader within months.
His breakthrough in 2020 had been a surprise. Then a fearless teenager, Swiatek strode across the court in a pandemic-delayed fall edition of the French Open, winning the title without dropping a set.
At Roland Garros this year, with all eyes on her, with posters declaring “She may never lose again”, Swiatek was equally bold. She never seemed weighed down by the pressure as the wins piled up. The only hiccup came in the fourth round, when she found herself up against Chinese teenager Qinwen Zheng. That aside, Swiatek, powered by her forehand, looked unstoppable. In the last three games, the commercial end if you like it, of her impressive French Open campaign, she has lost just 12 games, never more than three per set.
Gauff, 18, may have been a little unlucky to meet such an in-form player in her first Grand Slam final. The American, understandably, started Saturday’s final with some nerves. Swiatek was quick to jump on it and bagged the first set 6-1 in 32 minutes. Although Gauff broke Swiatek’s serve in the very first game of the second set, she couldn’t maintain the quality of the game long enough to make inroads into the match. At 2-1 in the second set, the roof went on and the Pole used the heaviest conditions to perfection to pull back and regain control.
Gauff committed 23 unforced errors that day, and Swiatek forced her to make another 21 with deep, heavy kicks. With so much at stake, the world number 1 put in a solid performance – 72% points won on first serve (of Gauff’s 46), 58% points won on second serve (of Gauff’s 40) and 18 winners – winning 6-1, 6-3 in just 68 minutes.
As a triumphant Swiatek rushed into the stands to celebrate with family and friends, Gauff sat alone at her bench. The tears flow. She hadn’t played her best tennis. But she could take comfort in knowing that her opponent played better than anyone. For five months, against players much more experienced than Gauff.
A fierce competitor on the pitch, Swiatek seems unassuming. Most of his responses begin with an extended “Ummm”. On YouTube, along with excellent reels of her tennis off, there are videos of her goofing off, with titles like “Swiatek being a meme for four minutes straight”. She’s one of the few players to play in a baseball cap, and her outfits aren’t the most fashion-forward. No traps, all grain.
In her own way, she continues the trend of a socially responsible female tennis champion. Even before Osaka focused on the mental health of tennis players at last year’s French Open, Swiatek spoke about emotional well-being. She’s worked with a sports psychologist since she was a teenager, before winning her first French Open and talking about the importance of having a mental health expert in her corner.
During the French Open, Swiatek wore a ribbon in the colors of Ukraine to express his solidarity with the neighboring country. On the podium on Saturday, as she received her second Roland-Garros trophy, she cried, she laughed, she was clumsy, she was sensitive. She ended her victory speech on Saturday with this: “I want to say something to Ukraine, to keep it strong, because the war is still here.”
But Swiatek is only 21, new to the scene and happy to be herself. As he posed in front of the cameras with the Roland-Garros trophy, the Polish player lifted the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup crown. Then shook his head, as if to signal that there was nothing inside. Just as there had been no rabbit in Swiatek’s hat during his breathtaking run.
She is the new face of domination, and women’s tennis is doing better for it.
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