Iga Świątek paraded her trophy in Paris in somewhat of a daze, saying she is still shocked to be the French Open champion, having beaten Sofia Kenin on Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland Garros on Saturday.
I always dreamed of the Olympics because of my father. I know it’s not the same for other tennis players, but for me, it’s really something special. I will fight for a medal. We were raised knowing that the Olympics are the biggest sporting event. There’s gonna be a lot of pressure, especially after my win in a Grand Slam. Iga Świątek
She burst into the spotlight, nothing bothering her, not the rain and the cold, or her opponents.
She outplayed them all, one after another, starting with Markéta Vondroušová, a 2019 finalist, in the first round, winning 6-2 6-1; then Su-Wei Hsieh and Eugenie Bouchard before demolishing top seed Simona Halep in the 4th round by the same score; 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.
She did not lose a single set in 7 matches, something no-one has done since Justine Hénin in 2007, and conceded only 28 games in total to her opponents.
“I’m just proud of myself,” she said. “I’ve done a great job the past two weeks.
“I wasn’t expecting to win this trophy. It’s obviously amazing for me. It’s like a life-changing experience. I just feel like I kind of made history by becoming the first Polish Grand Slam winner.”
For Kenin, the disappointment was keen.
“I was just sitting on the bench and crying,” Kenin admitted. “Obviously I had a lot of emotions. I tried my best to not cry in the speech and everything.”
The 21-year-old who lives in Florida, went a tour-best 16-2 in Grand Slam play in 2020, with a 4th-round showing at the US Open and getting to the last matches at Melbourne Park and Roland Garros.
She was hampered by her upper left leg, picked up during practice over the middle weekend, and the leg acted up again on Saturday.
“After the first set, I just felt it was so tight, I couldn’t move,” said Kenin, who left the court for a medical timeout to get the leg wrapped while trailing 2-1 in the second set, and did not win another game.
“I wish I would have held that beautiful trophy,” she said afterward. “Yeah, it’s not easy standing [there] when you were so close to win the title, and you lost it.”
Even in the glow of her champagne performance in Paris, Świątek stuck to still water as she celebrated at a Japanese restaurant, maintaining her discipline.
“We drank to her health, which she of course refused. It made an impression on me after such a success,” her trainer Piotr Sierzputowski told Reuters.
The 28-year-old coach thinks that mindset will be essential as Świątek prepares for a short break before training for the Australian Open starts again in the coming weeks.
“Iga is a professional. If professionals were to suddenly change their behaviour, or react dramatically because of such a result, that wouldn’t be good. I’m proud of her for being so calm,” he added.
In the WTA rankings announced on Monday, Świątek rose 37 spots to a career-best No 17 as new sponsorship deals, celebrity accolades and media interviews gather pace.
“I’ll need to have more time to get my thoughts straight and see the whole two weeks from a distance,” Świątek said, reflecting on her triumph. “Right now, I’m still happy and I still kind of shocked.
“I’m going to have a lot of responsibilities, which are going to be new for me.
“It’s a new experience and I still have some things to learn, so I’m just going to enjoy the moment.”
Used to moving around Warsaw with relative ease, Świątek’s anonymity is gone, something which could lead the teenager to more training outside of Poland.
Britain’s 3-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray sung her praises throughout the competition on Instagram: “Ridiculous performance today and the whole tournament, love her game.”
Świątek will most likely be defending her title within a little over 7 months, as Guy Forget, the Tournament Director has confirmed on Sunday that they intend to hold the French Open at Roland Garros in its original slot of the last weeks of May and early June, the coronavirus pandemic willing.
“I would say to make a decision on the tournament in May and June, it is not about ourself,” Forget said,. “Today for us the decision is made.
“We will play Roland Garros at the end of May and the beginning of June (2021) as it is done so far.
“So we cannot today expect what will be the situation, what will be the conditions and the sanitary conditions in the next spring.
“We cannot have a crystal ball to find the solution. So for us, at this point, there is no debate.”
Świątek has impressed everyone, media and fans included, but she had already made a name for herself before reaching Paris.
Born in Warsaw on 31 May 2001, Świątek won the doubles Gold medal on the clay of the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires in 2018 with Slovenian team-mate Kaja Juvan, taking the title in a hard-fought final against Japan’s Naito & Sato, 6-7 7-5 [10-4].
Just a few months earlier, she had won the junior championships at Wimbledon, dominating Switzerland’s Mirena Kung in the final, 6-4 6-2.
“I won Youth Olympic Games in doubles, and it was different for me because I’m more of a singles player,” she said. “That meant a lot because I was representing my country.
“I played with ‘Poland’ on my back, so it was amazing, but when I won Wimbledon as a junior it was a real step for me.”
She is looking to the Tokyo Olympic Games next year with great enthusiasm as her father Tomasz, was a rower who competed at the Games in Seoul in 1988, finishing 7th in the coxless fours after being eliminated in the semi-final.
“I always dreamed of the Olympics because of my father,” she explains. “I know it’s not the same for other tennis players, but for me, it’s really something special. I will fight for a medal.”
In Buenos Aires,Świątek was eliminated in the singles quarter-final by France’s Clara Burel, who was another surprise package at this year’s French Open, finishing third, before winning the doubles with Slovenia’s Juvan.
“We were raised knowing that the Olympics are the biggest sporting event,” she said. “There’s gonna be a lot of pressure, especially after my win in a Grand Slam.
“I’m also happy that I won the Youth Olympic Games, because I got a lot of experience.”
Even though she is still very young, the youngest Roland Garros winner since Monica Seles in 1992, Świątek has been working with a sports psychologist for two years, compatriot and former sailor Daria Abramowicz.
“She understands me from A to Z and she makes me cleverer. With her it’s easier to deal with my emotions.”
She has also been working with Britain’s Nick Brown, who helped steer her to win the Wimbledon Juniors two years ago.
“When she was starting to build her ranking as a 16-year-old, I asked her if she wanted to go full-time on the tour,” said Brown “She said, ‘No, I’m staying at school’. It was non-negotiable. And I thought, ‘Good for her’.
“She was saying, ‘If it takes a little longer to break through, I believe I can do that’. She wasn’t in a hurry. It’s a good lesson for younger players.”
Świątek chose to prioritise her schooling, only switching her full attention to tennis once she had completed education this summer, reflecting : “I just wanted to have bigger knowledge about something that is not tennis.”
“I had to schedule practice at 7am because she had to go to school and I’m asking, ‘Why are you tired? Did you sleep well?’ She said, ‘No, I was studying during the night’.” Sierzputowski said.
Interestingly, her racket has not changed since 2015, when she started using the Prince TXT 100 that is now rarely seen on the tour.
“I think we’re going to test some more [rackets] during this pre-season,” Świątek says.
Brown says: “She is an old head on young shoulders – a little like Martina Hingis at the same age.”
She will spend part of her off-season next month in Cambridge where she spend time with the former Davis Cup player, who continues to serve as mentor to the new Paris champion.
Among Brown’s responsibilities is looking after the Cambridge University Blues team.
“I will definitely get some of the better players to practise with her, and that should be a great incentive for them,” Brown told Sportsmail.
The David Lloyd Centre in Cambridge is an unlikely place to find a fresh Grand Slam winner, but Brown has worked alongside Świątek’s main coach Sierzputowski in bringing her through and he was with her when she won junior Wimbledon just two years ago.
“Unlike most players, she didn’t play the preceding event at Roehampton and just went straight into it, having never played on grass before,” recalled Brown. “She played the top seed in the first round [American Whitney Osuigwe], lost the first set and then worked out how to beat her in the next two.
“She came off court saying she didn’t like grass. Finally, after winning the title, she came off court and said she liked it after all.
“I pointed to the Centre Court and told her that she could be winning the final there in five years’ time.
“I didn’t expect her to win a Grand Slam so soon after that, but one of the abilities she has is to process information very quickly and put it into action.
“There are some players you can say things to and it never goes in, but she won’t leave the practice court until she feels on top of something she is learning.”
Świątek’s stunning run to the 2020 Roland Garros title was equal parts domination and decimation.
In not losing a set through her 7 matches, she won 75% of the games she played, and broke serve in 70% of her return games, dropping just 28 games en route to the title, equalling Chris Evert’s record in 1979. Only Steffi Graf came through with fewer, just 20 in 1988.
“Even though you’re really young and you’re an underdog, you can do a lot in a sport like tennis,” Świątek told reporters after her win. “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 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 overwhelming.”
That a star is born is quite clear, and the tennis family came together on social media in acknowledgement to congratulate Iga Świątek, the first woman from Poland to win a Grand Slam singles title, the first, no doubt, of many more to come.