French Open 2020: Iga Swiatek's consistent show at Roland Garros suggests she's here to stay
Iga Swiatek beat Sofia Kenin in straight sets to become the youngest Roland Garros champion since Monica Seles in 1992 and the first teenager since Iva Majoli in 1997.
“Maybe it just had to be like that. Another underdog is gonna win a grand slam. In women’s tennis it’s so open right now that it’s crazy.”
Iga Swiatek's words after clinching the French Open title capture the true essence of women's tennis at the moment. While the young men, for the most part, struggle to get out of the Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer shadow, the women haven't had such a problem. On Saturday, Swiatek became the latest in a growing list of youngsters to claim a Grand Slam title. Fact that it came against another young player on the block - Sofia Kenin - justified the WTA Tour's strength.
Swiatek became the ninth first-time Major champion in the last 14 Grand Slam titles. Seven of the last eight Grand Slam titles have been won by players under 23. All but one Roland Garros title in the last decade have been won by a player under 30-years-old and now we have one by a 19-year-old. And how bloody well has she played this past fortnight.
The Pole went without dropping a set and only conceding 28 games for a jaw-dropping level of dominance. At World No. 54, even with the likes of Kenin and Petra Kvitova remaining in the draw, both Grand Slam champions, it was Swiatek who was the bookmaker's favourite. To be fair to her, she had earned that right. She went past a variety of opponents: the diverse range of shots from Hsieh Su-wei, the high flying Martina Trevisan and Nadia Podoroska and above all, the tournament favourite and top-seed Simona Halep. The Romanian made all of two unforced errors in the first set and still lost 1-6. Against Kenin, that ruthless form continued. Even more surprisingly, she kept her focus all through the match.
"My girl out here winning the French Open," wrote Naomi Osaka in an Instagram story with an image of Swiatek serving for the match. And at some moments in the second set, Swiatek's focus could be compared with that of Osaka's in her 2018 US Open win. Even as Kenin took a medical timeout and break to tend to her left thigh, causing at least an eight minute stoppage, Swiatek kept her eye on the prize and never lost control.
“I think I was just mentally consistent. I just wanted to play aggressive as I did in the previous rounds. I felt like today was stressful for me. I don’t actually know what made the difference,” she said while speaking to Marion Bartoli courtside.
If Kenin found a measure to counter Kvitova's power in the semi-final, she found no answer for Swiatek. Like her previous matches, Iga sent a mixture of powerful forehand top-spin groundstrokes, surprise drop shots, big returns and covered every inch of the court. It didn't help Kenin that the injury hampered her mobility having spent more time on court.
"I'm not going to use this as an excuse, but my leg obviously was not the best," she said. "I've got to get some rest and hopefully my leg will get better."
"I've had the problem for a few of my matches. I've had to tape. I saw the physio and everything, so I was doing everything I can," explained the American.
"Today after the first set I just felt it was so tight, I couldn't move. That's why I had to call the trainer. It just got worse."
Having said all that, Kenin gave Swiatek due credit. "She played some great tennis. She's got the really good spinny forehand up the line. Really good backhand down the line."
Against Halep, Swiatek hit 13 winners from the forehand, 10 from the backhand against Trevisan, 8 from forehand against Podoroska and against Kenin both wings were equally dominant: 7 backhand winners and 8 forehand winners.
Coming into it, Kenin had said nerves would be an important factor. Even if they were, they never became visible. Swiatek took all of eight minutes to race off to a 3-0 lead including a love hold to start with. A jittery couple of games allowed Kenin to restore parity but lost the way late on to concede the set.
The second was a bigger test of Swiatek's mental toughness with an early break, stop-start flow and then the finish which would induce anxiety out of the best in the business. And yet it finished in a manner fitting to describe these past two weeks for Iga: with a forehand winner leaving her opponent stranded. Six games in a row, 24 of the last 30 points to conclude your first Grand Slam final appearance.
For a tournament that saw plenty of new names, surprises and upsets, it is only suitable that the title go to someone playing just her seventh Grand Slam. Swiatek's objective now is to be consistent like the 'Big 3' in men's tennis. Based on the show on Court Philippe-Chatrier, it won't be a surprise if she goes on to collect more Slams and on different surfaces — for she has the game for it.
Badosa celebrated the biggest win of her career by falling face first to the court, both hands covering her face while the crowd cheered.
Whilst Federer falls there is a career-high ranking of 11 for Italy's Jannik Sinner, who rises two spots on the back of his success in Antwerp on Sunday which was his fourth title of the season.
Kooyong president Adam Cossar said he was disappointed the event could not take place in January 2022 but hopes it will return in 2023.