If there are any lingering doubters that Iga Swiatek is the real deal, she surely dispelled them with a dominant and emphatic win over the young pretender Coco Gauff in the French Open final on Saturday, whom she trounced 6-1 6-3 in just 68 minutes to equal Venus Williams’ record of 35 consecutive victories set in 2000.
It may seem pretty weird, but having that 35th win and, kind of, doing something more than Serena did [with 34 wins], it’s something special. 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. Obviously winning a Grand Slam too, but this one was pretty special because I felt like I’ve done something that nobody has ever done and, maybe, it’s gonna be even more. Yeah, this one was special. Iga Świątek
Now the undisputed Queen of women’s tennis, Swiatek stamped her authority from the outset, taking the first set in just over half-an-hour, and snuffing out the briefest of challenges from the 18-year old American at the start of the second before striding into the history books with her second Roland Garros crown.
“I think, in 2020, the main thing that I felt was confusion, because I have never really believed 100% that I can actually win a Grand Slam,” the Pole, who turned 21 last week, told reporters. “This time it was, pure work.
“Just with everything that was going on, I’m also, like, more aware of how it is to win a Grand Slam, and what it takes, and how every puzzle has to come together and, basically, every aspect of the game has to work.
“With that awareness, I was even more happy, and even more proud of myself because, in 2020, I just felt that I’m lucky.
“This time I felt like I really did the work.”
In truth, Swiatek has been unstoppable since February and has now won her last 9 consecutive finals in straight sets while becoming the first woman since Justine Henin in 2007-2008 to clinch 6 titles in a row.
The 21-year-old has now matched Venus Williams’ streak of 35 straight match-wins, which is the longest unbeaten run in women’s tennis this century.
“It may seem pretty weird, but having that 35th win and, kind of, doing something more than Serena did [with 34 wins], it’s something special,” Swiatek said. “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.
“Obviously winning a Grand Slam too, but this one was pretty special because I felt like I’ve done something that nobody has ever done and, maybe, it’s gonna be even more. Yeah, this one was special.”
She is also just the 10th woman to win multiple Roland-Garros titles in the Open Era.
Swiatek started strong, going up a double-break for 4-0 in under 20 minutes, and while Gauff avoided the bagel by holding her serve in the 5th game, the set was all but over by the 34-minute mark.
At 5-1, a powerful backhand return winner forced an error from Gauff on set point, giving the Pole her 3rd break of the day, and the first set.
A couple of uncharacteristic backhand errors from Swiatek in the first game of the second gave Gauff an opening, and the 18-year-old drew more blood to get her first break of serve of the match when the Pole sent her inside-out forehand wide.
Swiatek refused to get rattled, though, and produced a series of unstoppable shots to win the next 5 games in a row.
Although the American held her serve to narrow the gap to 5-3, it was too little, too late, and Swiatek confidently served for the title, taking the championship on her first chance when Gauff sent her return long.
This latest triumph, hoisting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup, follows Swiatek’s title wins in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome.
Now, If Swiatek can win her next match, she will hold the best winning streak of the century, and tie Monica Seles’ run of 36 straight wins from 1990.
18 months ago, when Swiatek surprisingly won her first Roland Garros title ranked 54 in the world, circumstances were so very different as the final was played with a limited number of spectators in the stands due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year she arrived in Paris, not only as the World No 1 and a global celebrity, but also the overwhelming favourite, and many wondered how she would handle the building pressures of maintaining her winning streak and fulfilling expectations.
On Saturday, the 15,000-capacity Court Philippe-Chatrier was full, and among those cheering for Swiatek was Poland’s football captain and striker Robert Lewandowski, who congratulated her on Twitter by posting: “What an amazing success, what a great story! Good job Iga!”
“I didn’t know, and I’m happy about that, because I would get so stressed,” said Swiatek in her post-victory press conference when asked if she knew the footballer was there for her final. “Well, I’m happy that he’s here, honestly. I don’t know if he’s a huge tennis fan or not.
“But, yeah, I mean, wow. He’s been the top athlete in our country for so many years that it still feels, it’s hard to believe that he actually came to watch me.
“I hope he liked it,” she added with a grin. “I hope he’s gonna come back. Yeah, I don’t know. Just overwhelmed.”
Lewandowski was not the only football legend court-side, with former Germany international Bastian Schweinsteiger accompanying his wife, 2008 Roland-Garros champion Ana Ivanovic in the stands, while other former champions watching on included Billie Jean King, who won here in 1972, and 1997 winner Iva Majoli, as well as former Wimbledon and US Open champion Stan Smith.
Swiatek, who was in tears during the Polish national anthem, started her speech in emotional fashion, saying: “I just told Coco don’t cry, and what am I doing right now?
“Coco, when I was your age it was my first year on tour, and I had no idea what I was doing.”
The 21-year-old also thanked her team and admitted that her latest French Open title was quite special as she had to work hard for it.
“Two years ago, winning this title was something amazing, honestly, I wouldn’t expect it, ever,” she added. “But this time, I feel like, I worked hard and did everything to get here even though, you know, it was pretty tough. The pressure was big.”
Before concluding, she issued a message to Ukraine: “I wanted to, at the end, say something to Ukraine. To stay strong because the war is still there,” she said.
It sparked the biggest cheer of the day as the crowd rose on Court Philippe-Chatrier to give her a standing ovation, the applause lasting a good few minutes before the Pole continued: “Since my first speech in Doha, basically, I was hoping that, when I’m gonna go the next one, the situation is gonna get better.
“But I’m still gonna, you know, have hopes, and try to support.”
Gauff was playing in her first Grand Slam final, and there were tears of disappointment from the 18-year old at the end of the match, while Swiatek went over to her team to celebrate.
“This is a first time for me, so let’s try to get through this!” she said with a weak smile through more tears. “First of all, congratulations to Iga.
“What you’ve done on tour the past couple of months has truly been amazing, and you totally deserve it.
“Hopefully we can play each other in more finals, and I can get a win over you one of these days.”
She added: “To my team, sorry I couldn’t get this one today. Hopefully this is the first final of many.”
Later she said she was actually surprised by how she handled the occasion of her first major final, a moment she had dreamed about.
“In the match it probably looked like I was freaking out, but really it was just Iga was too good,” Gauff said. “I wasn’t freaking out. So I think the moment, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be.”
As Swiatek cements her place at the top of the WTA Rankings, Gauff will rise to a career-high No 13 on Monday.
Back in March, when she was working on what, in retrospect, feels like a quaint little winning streak of 11 matches, she was lying in bed and someone knocked on the door of her Miami apartment to tell her that Ash Barty, the World No 1 for 114 weeks, had just announced her retirement from tennis.
“You already know that I like to cry,” Swiatek told reporters the next day. “So I was crying for a long time. I mean, there was lot of confusion in me, for sure.”
That was 74 days ago and, in the interim, she has grown into that No 1 ranking in a spectacular, seamless way that few could have foreseen.
The statisticians will document her progress going forward, as she seeks to move past Venus Williams’ mark of 35 straight match-wins in 2000, and chase down Roger Federer’s 42 in 2006, and Novak Djokovic’s 43 in 2011.
Swiatek, who turned 21 on Tuesday, has won 56 of her past 58 sets and is the youngest woman to collect her second major title since 19-year-old Maria Sharapova won the 2006 US Open.
So much attention has been directed toward her streak, but her recent string of success is, in many respects, the result of the mental endurance she has showed in recent months.
It’s a sobering for the rest of the field that Swiatek has dropped a total of 32 games in her last 9 finals, which is an average of three-and-a-half games lost per final.
“I try to treat [a final] as any other match, which is pretty hard and kind of not possible, because there are always going to be a bigger amount of stress,” Swiatek said.
“You have a feeling that the tournament is coming to an end and this is the last match, so it would be nice to just finish it properly.
“But I guess I’m kind of accepting that a little bit more and I try to lean on the strengths and the things that I have.”
The Pole has now won both her majors on clay and, having already proved earlier in the season that she has the game to dominate on hard courts, she will turn her attention to grass, a surface on which she has not had much success.
“My coach [Tomasz Wiktorowski] believes I can win more matches on grass,” Swiatek said with a smile. “I don’t know about that yet, but I would like to add like one or two. Yeah but, honestly, grass is always tricky!
“I actually like the part, that I have no expectations there. It’s something kind of refreshing.
“I’m going to just prepare my best. And maybe with the experiences he had with Aga Radwanska [Poland’s former World No 2], it was her favourite surface, he’s going to give me some tips that are actually going to be really helpful, and I’m going to enjoy playing on grass a little bit more.”
The grass court season can’t wait to see her in action again.