Paris | Swiatek, Queen of Clay

After hoisting her 4th French Open trophy on Saturday, Iga Swiatek is being hailed the ‘Queen of clay’ and at the ladies singles champion photo shoot, she looked every inch the regal part as she joins all-time greats with her on-court accomplishments.

I feel, like, every year it's easier for me to adapt to grass... I just need to continue the work that I've been doing, and it's been easier every year, especially with my coach who, with [Agnieszka] Radwanska, they had great results on grass. For sure, it's a huge challenge. If I would lose here earlier, maybe I would be able to play two more weeks on grass, and then be a better grass player, but if I would choose, I love playing on clay, so I'm not going to give up that, ever. Iga Świątek

“It means a lot,” she said. “This tournament has been pretty surreal with the second round, and then I was able to get my game better and better every match.

“I’m really proud of myself, because the expectations, obviously, have been pretty high from the outside. Pressure, as well. I’m happy that I just went for it and I was ready to deal with all of this.”

She only turned 23 last week, and won her first title, the 2020 French Open, less than 4 years ago.

On Saturday she demolished Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, 6-2 6-1, in 68 minutes, and now owns 22 career titles.

Only 4 active players have more – Venus Williams (49), Petra Kvitova (31), Caroline Wozniacki (30) and Simona Halep (24).

In fact, only 2 other players in the Top 20 have won more than 10, namely Aryna Sabalenka, with 14, and who is 3 years older than Swiatek, and Elina Svitolina with 17, and she is 6 years older than the Pole.

Swiatek also is the first player since Serena Williams to win 3 consecutive titles at a single Grand Slam, and she lost the fewest games in the second week at a major since Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, while she joins Monica Seles as the only player in the Open Era to win her first 5 Grand Slam finals.

“I never played a player that has this intensity before in my life,” Jasmine Paolini said. “I think to play her here, it’s something different. She won already four titles, and she’s still 23 years old. These numbers are not, let’s say, normal. [They] are something unbelievable.”


Iga Swiatek is the undisputed Queen of Clay, and must now transition to grass

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Swiatek is the only woman other than Serena Williams to sweep Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros in a single season, and she came from match point down in two of those title runs, overcoming a pair of career-best performances from Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka.

After losing 17 games to Osaka in the 2nd-round here in Paris, she lost 17 games over the rest of the tournament.

“I’ll always try my best, no matter what the score is,” Swiatek said. “Sometimes it’s going to add up like that. Sometimes I’m gonna lose. But when you’re trying your best, it’s always the best solution, because you have no regrets, and you can turn tournaments into something like that.”

As she said those words, she pointed to the sparkling Coupe Suzanne Lenglen she had won, once again.

Dealing with the outside noise, the hype, the expectations to roll opponents on the terre battue, is an evolving process for the now 5-time major winner.

“When I do anything, I want to do it 100 per cent. I think when you’re a perfectionist, you are a perfectionist everywhere,” the Pole said. “I’m working on it, and this is a tricky thing, because, for sure, it helps you to be better, but sometimes it can be huge baggage.

“I think I’m fine handling my own pressure. It’s when the pressure from the outside hits me, then it’s a little bit worse. But I managed it really well at this tournament, I’m very proud of that.”

It could have been a very different fortnight for the World No 1 had Osaka stolen away one last point during their captivating 2nd round epic.

Osaka was 3-0 up in the decider, and held a match point at 5-3, but Swiatek found a way to blaze back, and escaped.

“For sure it gives me the feeling that I should always believe in myself, that I can find my tennis even if I’m in big trouble,” the top seed said. “With this tennis, I can fight back. It gives me confidence.”


Iga Swiatek poses for a photo with the trophy as the crowd and media gather following her victory in the Women's Singles Final match over Jasmine Paolini on Saturday

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Hall of Famers Chris Evert, who holds a record 7 French Open titles, and Martina Navratilova joined Swiatek on stage for the trophy presentation.

“I think we already have some players that I’ve been facing a lot, like Aryna [Sabalenka], Coco [Gauff], Elena [Rybakina],” Swiatek said of the current rivalries on the WTA Tour. “So, it’s not like we don’t have that but, for sure, it’s not so obvious like Roger [Federer], Novak [Djokovic], and Rafa [Nadal].

“Sometimes it’s the draw, sometimes it’s the fact that one player is going to play well here, one player is going to play well in another place. So I can, for sure, imagine that [a rivalry], but I don’t know which of these players that would be, or maybe somebody new. We’ll see.”

Swiatek’s idol is Rafael Nadal, who won Wimbledon following his 4th Roland-Garros title in 2008, and the World No 1 is capable of replicating that SW19 success, but she must first better a 2023 quarter-final exit.

“I had these ideas, like doing pre-season on grass so I can learn how to play there,” she said. “Last year’s result was pretty nice.

“I feel, like, every year it’s easier for me to adapt to grass. So I think there is no need to do that. I just need to continue the work that I’ve been doing, and it’s been easier every year, especially with my coach who, with [Agnieszka] Radwanska, they had great results on grass.

“For sure, it’s a huge challenge. If I would lose here earlier, maybe I would be able to play two more weeks on grass, and then be a better grass player, but if I would choose, I love playing on clay, so I’m not going to give up that, ever.”


Iga Swiatek poses with her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski, who also helped Agnieszka Radwanska win the French Open in 2006 and Wimbledon in 2005

© Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

For grass-court fans, 5 weeks on the surface begins with two WTA 250 events this week, with the 26th edition of the Libema Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, which features World No 5 Jessica Pegula as its top seed, and two-time defending champion Ekaterina Alexandrova going for the hat trick, while Osaka and Elise Mertens will face off in a 1st-round clash.

At the Rothesay Open in Nottingham, World No 8 Ons Jabeur tops the draw as the No 1 seed, as Katie Boulter is back on home soil in defence of her title, and her fellow Brit Emma Raducanu returns to the WTA Tour to face a qualifier in her first match.

Swiatek’s first outing on the grass will be at the Berlin Ladies Open in Germany, which starts on 17 June, and where the World No 1 leads 9 of the Top 10 in a stacked field at the first WTA 500 of the grass court season.

Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, Elena Rybakina, Pegula and reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova are all in the mix, with wild-cards going to Osaka and former No 1 Angelique Kerber.


Although Jasmine Paolini lost both the singles and doubles finals at Roland Garros over the weekend, she will rise to World No 7 on Monday

© Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Jasmine Paolini, as the 28-year-old Italian continues her break-through season, having made it into her first Grand Slam finals in both singles and doubles, but losing both.

Despite falling to Swiatek in the singles championship match, Paolini’s speed, forehand and competitive grit impressed on a major stage for 2 weeks in Paris.

After making the 4th round at the Australian Open and winning the WTA 1000 Dubai title this year, Paolini remains a heavy contender for a spot at the year-end WTA Finals, and will rise to a career-high placement of World No 7, her Top 10 debut, in Monday’s WTA Rankings.

“I don’t know which one is my next dream,” Paolini said after the final. “But I’m enjoying the moment, I’m in the present, and I think it’s nice to discover step by step.”


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