There is a new star in the tennis galaxy, Iga Świątek, who made history in Paris by becoming the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam singles title, defeating Sofia Kenin in the women’s final, the youngest player to win the women’s singles French Open title since Monica Seles in 1992.
Right now, when I'm here, and I'm a Grand Slam champion, it's crazy. You believe in things, but in the back of your head you know that there's going to be a huge amount of work that you have to do to win that. Then after two weeks of great playing, you already have it. It's just - I don't know - overwhelming. I think I'm going to need some more time to comment on that because I need some perspective, some distance. Iga Świątek
“I’m just proud of myself,” Świątek told the media later. “I’ve done a great job past two weeks. I wasn’t expecting to win this trophy.
“It’s obviously amazing for me. It’s a life-changing experience.”
Just a few days ago she was teaching us how to say her name – svee-ahn-tek – and now the world is hardly likely to forget it as her wonderful talent is fully recognised.
The unseeded 19-year-old stormed through the draw, not dropping a single set and losing just 23 games in her 6 matches run to reach the championship match.
She defeated last year’s finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the first round, then Su-Wei Hsieh and Eugenie Bouchard before demolishing of top seed Simona Halep in the 4th round, and taking out the giant-killing qualifiers Martina Trevisan and Nadia Podoroska to reach the final, where she efficiently dispatched Kenin of the United States, 6-4 6-1.
“It was so crazy for me, winning against Simona [Halep] that I already thought about the tournament as my lifetime achievement,” she said. “Really, I had no expectations.
“I knew it’s going to be tough in the final. I didn’t want to stress a lot about it, so I just told myself that I don’t care and I tried to believe in that.”
The tennis world welcomed the exciting teenager’s arrival, and congratulated her on her triumph across social media.
Three-time major champion Naomi Osaka, who missed Paris because of injury, parsied her friend’s win from afar, while Poland’s first Grand Slam finalist in women’s singles, former World No 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, was among the first to offer her compatriot congratulations on Twitter.
Kenin, the Australian Open champion, had no answers to Świątek‘s extraordinary defensive skills despite her efforts to dominate much of the match on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Świątek became the 6th unseeded player in the open era to win a Grand Slam, following in the footsteps of Sloane Stephens, Jeļena Ostapenko, Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams and Chris O’Neil.
The Pole was impressive in the first 3 games of Saturday’s final, winning 12 of the first 15 points and converting her first break point when Kenin sent a backhand long, dominated the opening exchanges as she raced to a 3-0 lead before the American started to find her feet.
After winning the 4th game, Kenin broke back following a Świątek double-fault and then drew level at 3-3 as the momentum began to swing the American’s way.
Świątek came under pressure again in the 7th game, when a superb cross-court forehand winner saw Kenin stave off a break point before an un-returnable serve saved another but, at the 3rd time of asking, the American netted a forehand and the teenager broke free to move 5-3 up. .
The Pole held a set point but slapped a backhand into the net before Kenin cut the deficit to 5-4.
Świątek held her nerve and seized her next opportunity to take the set as Kenin pulled a backhand wide.
“Everybody is stressed when they’re playing Grand Slam finals,” said Świątek. “I just knew that Sofia may also be stressed, that she’s not a machine.
“I was aware that we can both struggle, and we’re probably not going to play our best tennis because it’s hard with so much pressure.
“But I just did everything I’ve done in the previous rounds. I focused on technique and tactics.
“I tried to get rid of expectations, just play one ball after another.
“I didn’t really care if I’m going to lose or win. I think the main key was just keeping my expectations low.”
The two had faced each other once before, in the 2016 juniors in Paris, when Świątek narrowly won, but this time round it was emphatic in style, pocketing the final 6 games and dismissing the No 4 seed after an hour and 24 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
“She obviously played a really good match,” Kenin said. “She’s really hot right now, playing some really great tennis.
“I’m not going to use this as an excuse, but my leg, obviously, was not the best. It’s obviously disappointing.”
Exchanging breaks to open the second, Świątek kept pressing, even as Kenin left the court for a medical timeout to get her leg taped, telling the physio it was hampering her movement.
Winning a 5th straight game behind a barrage of winners, Świątek was cruising to the finish.
Championship point arrived after a service winner and Świątek completed a nerveless performance with one last forehand winner.
She dropped to her knees in disbelief, as Kenin waited for her at the net and after tapping rackets with her, she requested permission from the umpire to head to the stands, ignoring coronavirus safety protocols as she gave members of her team tight hugs before heading back down to accept the trophy.
“I think at the end I really just enjoyed the moment. It’s not that I don’t care if I’m going to win or lose, I’m just not thinking about it all the time. I’m focusing on the things I do right now because winning is just an effect of my work that I’m doing every minute.”
Świątek ended the match with an astounding 25 winners, making just 17 unforced errors while converting 6 of 9 break point opportunities and, winning over 60% of all points played on return, she allowed Kenin just 10 points in the second set.
In taking the title match, Świątek is the first woman since Justine Henin in 2007 to win at Roland Garros without dropping a set, and the first Grand Slam winner born in 2001, while Kenin, 21, had been attempting to become the first winner of two women’s singles Grand Slam titles in the same calendar year since 2016.
“I just feel like I kind of made history. But I still think that Radwanska, she achieved a lot because she played on the top level of WTA for, I don’t know, 12 years. I don’t even know the number,” Świątek said of her illustrious countrywoman.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of people who is going to compare us. But I think I have to be really consistent for the next couple years to everybody to name me like the best player in Poland because still I have a lot to do. Still I think that’s kind of her place.”
Ranked World No 54 coming into Roland Garros, Świątek is the lowest-ranked player to ever win the French Open title.
She comes from an athletic lineage, having been born to former Olympic rower Tomasz Świątek, and credits her father for raising her to be comfortable in the face of high level competition.
After the match Świątek said that the time has come for the underdogs of women’s tennis,
“It’s inspiring,” she said of this new wave of young Grand Slam champions that includes Kenin, Osaka, and Bianca Andreescu. “I know that there are no limits.
“Even though you’re really young and you’re an underdog, you can do a lot in a sport like tennis.
“Well, on one hand it’s pretty inspiring. Sometimes I caught myself visualising that I’m also winning a Grand Slam. But on the other hand it was also really far away.
“Right now, when I’m here, and I’m a Grand Slam champion, it’s crazy.
“You believe in things, but in the back of your head you know that there’s going to be a huge amount of work that you have to do to win that.
“Then after two weeks of great playing, you already have it. It’s just – I don’t know – overwhelming.
“I think I’m going to need some more time to comment on that because I need some perspective, some distance.”
Wtth such a head on her shoulders and such exciting results, this surely is the beginning of a new Świątek era.