Iga Swiatek had to fight hard for her 3rd French Open title, eventually seeing off Karolina Muchova, 6-2 5-7 6-4, after a 2 hours 46 minute thriller of a women’s final on Saturday afternoon at Roland Garros.
It's really surreal! I'm sorry for that [after accidentally dropping the lid of the Suzanne Lenglen trophy at the presentation]. I don't know what motion caused that. Sorry, I don't want to be disrespectful. It will not happen again again, probably, I just hope I will have another occasion. Iga Świątek
What started out as an almost routine rout by the World No 1, who led by a set and 3-0, suddenly turned into a battle of skills, fitness and determination as Muchova showed why she is known as a giant slayer.
She entered the match unseeded but with a 5-0 record against women ranked in the Top 3, including her ousting of World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka in a thrilling 3 hour 13 minute semi-final in which she stared down a match point and fought back, the Czech posed a credible threat.
After a timid first set, she played like it, but, somehow, Swiatek figured her way past Muchova to become the first woman to successfully defend the Roland Garros title since 2007.
The 22-year-old is just the 3rd woman in the Open era to win each of her first 4 Grand Slam finals, with the Pole adding to her 2020 and 2022 titles in Paris and last year’s US Open triumph.
Muchova, the 4th lowest-ranked women’s finalist ever in Paris at No 43, fought her way back, and twice led Swiatek by a break in the decider before her fate was sealed with a double-fault on match point.
“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said ahead of the final. “I really respect her, and she’s, I feel, a player who can do anything, you know. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of, I don’t know, freedom in her movements. And she has great technique.”
The 26-year-old Czech has a classic, all-court game and she pushed Swiatek to the point of discomfort by repeatedly drawing her up to net, serving 6 searing aces and conjuring some of the gutsiest shot selection seen throughout the 2 weeks.
“I felt it was very close, a close match,” Muchova said after her loss. “But overall, to call myself a Grand Slam finalist, it’s an amazing achievement, and for sure big motivation for me to work in the future and to get a chance again to play for these big titles.
“I always believe when I go to the Grand Slam, but I believed in every Grand Slam I played before and I’ve never played the final. So the belief is there, but that I actually achieved it, it’s a very nice and warm feeling for me.
“It’s good for the confidence. […] It says to me that I’m able to do this, to do these big results. It’s very motivational, and now I feel I can do it and I will for sure try to get there again and to put up a fight for the title on the next stages.”
This was Swiatek’s greatest test in a major final, and she had never before dropped a set in a championship match, but her steadiness beat out Muchova’s determination.
They had played once before, in Prague in spring 2019, when Swiatek was 17, ranked 95 and a qualifier for that event, and with 22-year old Muchova, ranked 106 and a wild-card, and it was the Czech who won 6-4 in the third set.
Now they shared a unique experience together, Muchova forcing Swiatek to draw on a new dimension of her game, summoning grit to fend off an impressive come-back
So often, Swiatek merely has to change gears when threatened, and rarely spends a long time on court, but on Saturday she had to do both.
Capable of hitting every shot in the book, the young Pole pops her forehand, slices and dices, volleys and produces an array of spin struck with awesome power, while she converts her defence into lethal offence with remarkable ease.
She also covers the court with deceptive ease, chasing down drop-shots with the ease of a sprinter, but she rarely has to deploy her gutsiness, and, in her first 6 matches, she did not drop a set and lost just 23 games.
“To play against [Swiatek], you have to be ready,” Muchova said. “The balls are coming fast. She’s not doing any easy mistakes, and you always know that [when] you have a chance and you have to take it, because maybe there is no other chance.
“That’s why she’s World No 1 and you have to bring your best performance to be able to beat her.”
On guard against an underdog with a habit of taking those down at the top, Swiatek quickly applied pressure on the 26-year-old Muchova, and a miscued forehand from the Czech handed the Pole 2 break points in the 2nd game, which she took with minimal fuss.
The top seed consolidated with a quick hold before Muchova got on the board in game 4, drawing loud roars from the Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd.
Muchova carved out a break opportunity to get back on serve, but Swiatek snuffed it out in a protracted 5th game, pumping her fist in relief as she surged 4-1 up.
The Pole saw another break point come and go the following game, but her disappointment was brief as she easily won the next 2 games to wrap up the opening set.
It looked like another command performance from the defending champion as she looked to be playing her way into tennis history, but then Muchova completely turned the match on its head.
A loose service game had allowed Swiatek to pull 3-0 out in front in the second set, but Muchova refused to roll over, displaying the grit and resolve she used to rally from match point down against Sabalenka in the previous round, and a crunching forehand down the line retrieved the break before the Czech levelled at 3 games all.
Swiatek briefly slowed Muchova’s momentum as the pair traded holds before the reigning champion showed her first real sign of nerves, double-faulting to leave her rival serving at 5-4 to force a decider.
Muchova failed to consolidate and Swiatek broke right back, but another shaky game from the Pole presented the Czech with another chance.
Two set points passed Muchova by, but she set up a 3rd with a brilliant backhand volley on the stretch, with Swiatek then pumping her return long to send the match into a decider.
Playing in her first major final, the Czech had won 9 of 11 games and suddenly held a 2–0 lead in the third set, and there were echoes of Muchova’s take-down of Sabalenka 2 days earlier.
It set Swiatek’s nerves on edge as her frustration bubbled to the surface, and she bellowed at her team in the box in an uncharacteristic outburst.
Muchova sensed the tide was turning in her favour as Swiatek’s title defence began to creak, the Pole broken to love as her opponent rattled off 8 straight points to move 2-0 ahead.
Swiatek’s formidable record at Roland Garros, though, gives Swiatek total belief in herself and her powers, and she did what great champions do, set about figuring out a way past the talented Czech, storming back, snatching 3 games on the bounce, and, although Muchova broke for 4-3, the Pole struck back immediately and then secured a nervy hold, resisting another break point, to move within a game of victory.
Swiftly racing 30-0 up, Swiatek earned 2 championship points when Muchova dragged a forehand wide, before the Czech succumbed in the most anti-climactic manner with a double-fault to end the thrilling contest.
“It’s really surreal,” Swiatek said later, before accidentally dropping the lid of the Suzanne Lenglen trophy at the presentation. “I’m sorry for that. I don’t know what motion caused that. Sorry, I don’t want to be disrespectful. It will not happen again again, probably, I just hope I will have another occasion.”
FFT President Gilles Moretton picked the lid up and placed it back on the Cup, only for Swiatek to carefully lay it back down near her feet to continue her celebrations.
Swiatek has both class and humility and does not allow the hype surrounding her creating a new clay-court dynasty go to her head.
“I wouldn’t say that kind of motivation, [that] it’s my style, you know,” she said. “I’m more a person who just tries to do her best every day and hope for the best.”
US legend Chris Evert, who had presented her with the trophy, later said: “She hits the ball harder than a man. I told her – you’ve won three French Opens, I won seven. You’re only 22, you’re going to go past that. You can go to eight, nine, 10.”
All were in tears, Swiatek with relief and joy, Muchova in disappointment and exhaustion, and Evert in sympathy.
“It was very close, but very far,” Muchova said. “Now I’m a little sad but I gave my everything on the court so I have nothing to regret.
“Iga is World No.1 and I was so close. I think now that I can do it. Obviously I know it’s not, like, you know, just like that [snapping fingers]. It’s a lot of work and effort to do, but I’m willing to take that.
“I gave my everything on the court today, so I have nothing to regret, or however to say that.”
Swiatek’s latest coronation caps another dominant 2 weeks on the clay in Paris, where her record stands at 28 wins and 2 losses in 5 visits.
Her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, acknowledged the obstacles the team overcame in the lead-up to the 2023 French Open triumph.
“Iga felt more pressure than last year,” Wiktorowski said during an interview with Eurosport. “It was a huge match, the final of a Grand Slam. Being here back-to-back means something, but also, you demand more from yourself.”
This victory has not come easily for the Pole, who failed in all 5 WTA 1000 attempts this year so far.
In 2022, she collected 4 of those in the first half of the season, but the World No 1 was unable to defend her titles in Miami and Rome due to injury-related setbacks.
42-year-old Wiktorowski revealed that the team was unsure whether the 22-year-old would be able to contest the French Open after her thigh injury in Rome.
“She has passed through all the tough moments this year,” he said. “She was injured badly in Indian Wells and then skipped Miami. Then after Rome, we were unsure if she would be able to play at the French Open until the very last moment.
“This is why this was the most difficult match for me since I became her coach,” he added.
Swiatek, who had 2000 ranking points on the line, entered the tournament with a live ranking of World No 2, behind Aryna Sabalenka, and faced a very real threat of losing her top spot after the clay court Major, thanks to Sabalenka’s relentless effort in reaching the semi-finals, where she was stopped by Muchova.
The Pole’s subsequent semi-final victory over Beatriz Haddad Maia ensured that she will stay put in her ranking position come Monday, 12 June.
Muchova will return to the Top 20 of the WTA singles rankings on Monday, and is hopeful for even greater successes as she moves off the clay and onto grass.
“I look forward to playing on the grass, on the fast surfaces, that’s for sure the surfaces I prefer and I like more,” the two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist said. “It’s just nice to know that I can play on the clay great as well. […] It could have ended up a little bit better, but it was still pretty great.”
With her recent Major victory, Iga Swiatek became only the third woman in the Open Era to win all four of her first Grand Slam finals, alongside Monica Seles and Naomi Osaka; and the fourth player overall – with Roger Federer included.