Poland’s first: Swiatek completes run for the ages

The 19-year-old Pole is her nation's first-ever Grand Slam singles champion

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2020, locker room trophy shoot© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Iga Swiatek finished Roland-Garros just like she started it: in full flight - and without a blemish. 

The 19-year-old toppled 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin on Saturday 6-4, 6-1, to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from Poland, and the youngest Roland-Garros women’s singles champion since Monica Seles in 1992.

“I don’t know, it’s just overwhelming for me,” Swiatek said after her victory on Court Philippe-Chatrier. “It’s crazy. Two years ago I won a junior Grand Slam and right now I’m here. It feels like such a short time - I’m just overwhelmed.” 

Swiatek ran the table in Paris, dropping just 28 games to become the first player since Justine Henin to claim the Roland-Garos singles title without dropping a set.

Ranked 54, Swiatek becomes the second unseeded women’s singles champion in Roland-Garros history, and the lowest-ranked to hoist the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen (since the rankings were introduced in 1975). 

“I'm just proud of myself,” Swiatek said. “I've done a great job in the past two weeks. I wasn't expecting to win this trophy. It's obviously amazing for me. It's a life-changing experience.”

She may have made her seven victories look easy but there were mental hurdles to clear for the precocious teenager. 

Swiatek had to dial down her expectations after a disappointing stretch at the US Open, but after some purposeful soul-searching with her team, comprised of coach Piotr Sierzputowski and sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz, she was able to ratchet down the pressure and strike the perfect competitive balance all week in Paris, and especially in her first Grand Slam final.

“Everybody is stressed when they're playing Grand Slam finals,” she said. “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.” 

Forget pressure, Swiatek just kept focusing on her tennis. 

“I just did everything I've done in the previous rounds,” she said. “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.” 

Playing just her seventh career Grand Slam main draw, Swiatek becomes the first teenager to raise the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen in Paris since Iva Majoli in 1997

The fourth-seeded Kenin, who was bidding to become the first woman to win two Grand Slam titles in the same season since 2016, put her trademark grit on display in the opening set, as she rallied from 3-0 down to level the score. She threatened to break in the next game, pushing Swiatek to deuce twice, but the teenager demonstrated her poise by wiggling out of trouble. 

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2020, final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Swiatek then turned the pressure on Kenin. After a trade of breaks she snatched the final four points of the set with Kenin serving at 4-5 to lock up the opening set in 53 minutes. 

“I knew it's going to be tough in the final,” Swiatek said. “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. 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.”

When the second set commenced the free-flowing athleticism of Swiatek took centre stage. There was a skip in her step as she cracked winners with authority and went on the attack against Kenin’s serve. 

The fourth-seeded American, who went off court to have her left thigh retaped after the third game, couldn’t come up with a proper reply to Swiatek’s forceful game. The Pole cracked 12 winners against four unforced errors in the second set and won 12 of 15 return points to run away with the match.

Sofia Kenin, Roland Garros 2020, final© Julien Crosnier/FFT

“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.” 

Swiatek will rise to a career-high ranking of 17 in the world on Monday. She’ll also be a celebrity when she returns to her native Poland. 

Not bad for two weeks' work. 

“For sure it's, like, inspiring,” Swiatek said. “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.”