French Open champion Iga Swiatek swept through the women’s draw at Roland Garros to land her second singles title in Paris and, perhaps, out of everyone, she was the only one who had felt some inner doubts.
I think it's important that I had this kind of match - it is kind of like a cold shower. It reminded me how to find these solutions after losing a first set. I feel I'm going to take some positives from it. I think it's going to give me a lot before the next matches. Iga Świątek
“I think, in 2020, the main thing that I felt was confusion, because I have never really believed 100 per cent that I can actually win a Grand Slam,” confessed Swiatek. “This time, it was pure work.”
Having not lost a match since February, the Polish World No 1 came into the tournament on a mind-boggling winning streak seeking her 6th consecutive title of the year.
The 21-year-old did more than withstand the pressure – she mowed down most of her competition, too, dropping only one set all tournament long.
Incredibly, she has won 56 of her past 58 sets of tennis, and still has not lost more than 5 games in her past 9 finals on tour.
“I think honestly, it may seem pretty weird, but having that 35th win and, kind of, doing something more than Serena did, it’s something special,” Swiatek told reporters. “Because I always wanted to have some kind of a record.
“In tennis, it’s pretty hard after Serena’s career. So basically that really hit me.”
It is the nature of the game that every draw is whittled down every day and, each round, players had a crack at the top seed, who only really wobbled a bit, twice, over the fortnight, testimony that this all very much matters to her.
Only 19-year-old Zheng Qinwen from China came close to actually toppling Swiatek off her perch, snatching the opening set in a tiebreak before succumbing over the next two after taking an off-court injury timeout.
“I think it’s important that I had this kind of match – it is kind of like a cold shower,” said Swiatek. “It reminded me how to find these solutions after losing a first set.
“I feel I’m going to take some positives from it. I think it’s going to give me a lot before the next matches.”
Later Zheng explained that her period pains had caused her more difficulty than the thigh-pull that she had had strapped mid match.
“Yeah, the leg was also tough. That compared to the stomach was easy,” Zheng, ranked 74 in the world, told reporters. “I cannot play my tennis, [my] stomach was too painful. It’s just girls’ things, you know.
“The first day is always so tough, and then I have to do sport, and I always have so much pain in the first day. And I couldn’t go against my nature.
“I wish I can be a man on court, but I cannot in that moment. I really wish I can be [a] man [so] that I don’t have to suffer from this.”
Swiatek, who turned 21 in Paris, admitted: “I felt, like, I was a little bit in trouble, but I was able to come back and really refocus, and find other solutions, so that’s great.
“I tried to loosen up my hand a little bit. She played really good tennis with heavy topspins.
“The key in the second set was, kind of, not letting her do that again. I’m pretty happy that I could play a little bit faster and put pressure on her.”
Later the Pole broached the subject of menstrual periods, saying these can be difficult for professional athletes, but experience and advances in medicine and technology can provide solutions.
“At the beginning of the careers, it’s sometimes very tricky to manage that properly,” Swiatek said following her win over Jessica Pegula to reach the French Open Last 4. “But when you get the experience and actually find some solutions, that may help you. It’s easier later.”
Swiatek also praised Zheng for speaking up about the issue.
“You don’t have to speak about it, but it’s pretty nice that they’re doing that because we are facing those problems,” she said. “And it’s cool that she’s honest. But it’s up to every player if they want to talk about that or not,” she added.
“I think she [Zheng] has to just find a way to deal with that so it’s not going to influence her performance.”
Playing in just her second Grand Slam main draw, Zheng took out 2018 champion Simona Halep in the 2nd-round, announcing that she is a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Another teenager, Coco Gauff, emulated her run to the junior title in 2018 by becoming the youngest woman to play a Grand Slam final since Maria Sharapova at 2004 Wimbledon, dropping just one set on the way while also making the final in the doubles with Jessica Pegula, her second at a major, where they eventually lost in 3 sets to re-united Frenchwomen Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic, who repeated their 2016 run to the trophy.
“Going in, I know I’ve been saying a lot, ‘Oh, it’s just a tennis match, it doesn’t matter’. Really, that’s what I believe. It doesn’t matter,” Gauff said after losing the singles final, amid tears during her post-final press conference. “I mean, with the emotions now I’m feeling it a lot, but tomorrow I’m gonna wake up, and be really proud of myself.”
Three French women made memorable runs into the 3rd round and, in inimitable French fashion, the story was less about what they achieved and more about how they got there.
For 227th-ranked Leolia Jeanjean, it was becoming the lowest ranked woman in 34 years to defeat a women’s top-10 seed, when the Grand Slam debutante stunned World No 8 Karolina Pliskova, 6-2 6-2.
For 32-year-old Alizé Cornet, it was taking down 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-0 1-6 6-3, under the lights of the Court Philippe-Chatrier night session, the only match to be played in prime time.
And for 19-year-old Diane Parry, the most memorable moment of all was when the Paris resident recorded her best Grand Slam result to date by stunning World No 2 and defending champion Barbora Krejcikova in the first round, rallying from a set down to win 1-6 6-2 6-3 en route to round three.
“When my mother would bring me to school, I could see every day the Roland-Garros stadium,” Parry said. “It was a dream for me to play there once… Today it’s a dream come true in front of a beautiful crowd.”
Martina Trevisan, the talented Italian, made an inspirational run to the quarter-finals in her main draw debut back in 2020 but, in nearly 2 years since, had struggled to put together any significant results, with just 3 victories from 19 tour-level matches last year.
“I collected a lot of experience, positive and negative experience,” Trevisan said of her lean 2021 season. “At the beginning of this year, [the difference] is that I was dreaming of this moment, because in myself, in my head, I see again this moment.
“I thought to myself, ‘Yes, Martina, you can do it again.’”
The 28-year-old claimed her long-awaited first WTA title in Rabat during the build-up to Roland-Garros, defeating top seed Garbiñe Muguruza along the way, and translated all of that momentum into success on the terre battue with a career-best run to the semi-finals.
The American contingent also performed well during the fortnight, with 16 players in the women’s draw this year, and they left their mark on the clay, led by Gauff’s run to the singles and doubles finals, while doubles partner Pegula also equalled her best Grand Slam result by reaching the quarter-finals.
Madison Keys also enjoyed strong results in Paris, reaching the semi-finals in doubles with Taylor Townsend after a 4th-round singles appearance, while 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens returned to the quarter-finals for the first time in 3 years.
After her breakthrough run to the US Open final last year, many pundits wondered how 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez would fare at future majors now that there was a target firmly on her back.
A first-round exit at the 2022 Australian Open seemed like a bad omen, but by the time Roland-Garros came around Fernandez’s luck had turned and the lefty broke French hearts with a handy defeat of Mladenovic in the opening round, and followed it up with a comfortable win over Czech Katerina Siniakova.
Fernandez’s highly entertaining 7-5 3-6 7-5 win over Olympic champion Belinda Bencic sent her into the second week at a major for just the second time in her young career, and she booked a place in the quarter-finals with a 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over Amanda Anisimova.
“Every time I step out on the court I still have something to prove,” said Fernandez, who rises to a career-high World No 17. “I still have that mindset that I’m the underdog. I’m still young, I still have a lot to show to the people.”
Unforgettable atmosphere has been the cornerstone of this year’s successful French Open after a tough couple of years, with 2020 Roland Garros held in the autumn with a cap on attendance, and last year’s event played in front of limited spectators and night sessions held behind closed doors.
Now, Roland-Garros is back in its rightful place on the calendar, and tennis fans are back where they belong – in the stands, doing the Mexican wave round and round Court Philippe-Chatrier.