Stress to serenity - Swiatek's 'surreal' fifth major


Image caption: Ten days after saving a match point and avoiding a second-round exit, Iga Swiatek lifted her fourth French Open title
GETTY IMAGES Image caption: Ten days after saving a match point and avoiding a second-round exit, Iga Swiatek lifted her fourth French Open title

The end looked nigh for Iga Swiatek when she was match point down against Naomi Osaka in their second-round blockbuster at the French Open.

Tension was etched across the world number one's face in the depths of a dramatic deciding set.

Sweat poured from a furrowed brow as she tried desperately to figure out what was going wrong.

Avoiding defeat, with an angled, crosscourt backhand return that Osaka hit into the net, proved to be the catalyst for Swiatek's march to a third consecutive title at Roland Garros - and a fourth overall.

"[Coming back like that] gives me the feeling that I should always believe in myself, that I can find my tennis even if I'm in big trouble and fight back," Swiatek said in her title-winning news conference.

"When you're trying your best, it's always the best solution. You have no regrets and you can turn tournaments into something like that," she added, pointing towards the trophy.

Following that moment, the Polish top seed sailed serenely through the draw.

The 23-year-old won 64 of 81 games in a run which culminated in a commanding 6-2 6-1 victory over Italy's Jasmine Paolini.

A 40-minute ‘double bagel’ over Anastasia Potapova in the fourth round laid down a significant marker, before 2019 finalist Marketa Vondrousova was sent packing in the quarter-finals for the loss of just two games.

US Open champion Coco Gauff offered more resistance in the semi-finals but Swiatek still asserted control against an opponent she has dominated in their previous meetings.

In a final which few expected her to lose, Swiatek crushed Paolini in a devastating performance which showcased her ability and authority on the red dirt.

"I'm a perfectionist, so there is always pressure," said Swiatek.

"But I think I'm fine with handling my own pressure. It's when the pressure from the outside hits me, then it's a little bit worse.

"I managed it really well at this tournament."

  • 'Double digits' and 'career Grand Slam' - what can Swiatek achieve?

Swiatek's aura at Roland Garros is becoming so great that she is now being dubbed the 'Queen of Clay'.

The key statistics show why:

  • Swiatek has won 21 matches in a row at the French Open - the fourth-longest streak in women's singles in the Open era
  • Swiatek has won 35 of her 37 matches at Roland Garros

  • She has not lost in Paris since 2021

By beating Paolini on Saturday, Swiatek has become the youngest woman to win four French Open titles in the Open era.

Only Chris Evert (seven), Steffi Graf (six) and Justine Henin (four) have matched or bettered her tally.

American great Evert, who won 18 major titles between 1974 and 1986, says she worries "every day" about Swiatek beating her record at Roland Garros.

"When I put my head under the pillow I’m worried about Iga," Evert joked on Eurosport.

"I think Iga will end up on double digits. I don’t just think she will beat my record here - I think it’s double digits."

Asked for her response to Evert's comments, Swiatek smiled. "It’s nice to hear such words. But I’m not thinking in these categories," she said.

"Even being here and winning five Grand Slams seems pretty surreal. I would never have expected that when I was younger.

"Getting to double digits here still seems a long shot.

"I will sure work for it and will do my best to become better and better every year – and play my best tennis here."

While most of Swiatek's Grand Slam success has come on the clay, her dominance on the WTA Tour has been underpinned by her ability on the hard courts.

Her other major triumph came at the 2022 US Open, with 13 of her 22 WTA titles coming on the acrylic.

Grass has been her least proficient surface - having played just 23 matches on the surface in her professional career, compared with 205 on hard and 90 on clay.

Wimbledon is the major tournament where she has had the least success as a professional.

Last year's run to the quarter-finals was her best performance, although she did win the junior title at the All England Club in 2018.

"I think Swiatek will win all four Grand Slams," said former British number one Annabel Croft, who was summarising the final for BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Look at Nadal - I think people thought he would never win Wimbledon but he found a way to win it."

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024