What we learned from Roland-Garros 2020 women's event

As a fortnight of sensational tennis comes to a close, here's a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the women's action.

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2020, trophy shoot in Paris© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Danielle Rossingh

Favourites fell, teenagers rose and in the end, an unseeded player from Poland with a whippy forehand won the title.

The women’s event had everything during this year’s Roland-Garros.

Here are a few things we learned from the women’s tournament in Paris.

Teens on the rise

With 11 teenagers in this year’s singles draw, women’s tennis appears to be in rude health, with a fine crop of young players coming through who will be fighting for the sport’s biggest prizes for years to come.  

Take the 17-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark, who came through qualifying before saving two match points to upset US Open semi-finalist Jennifer Brady in a lengthy three-set clash in the opening round.

Or Leylah Fernandez, who reached the third round in just her first appearance at Roland-Garros. At 18 years of age, the Canadian will be ranked 89 in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Clara Tauson, Roland Garros 2020, qualifications©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

But the tournament belonged to teen queen Iga Swiatek, who played with a maturity and understanding of the game well beyond her 19 years, and won the title without dropping a single set.

The 54th-ranked player from Warsaw is the 35th teenager to win a major championship in the women’s game, and the youngest Roland-Garros winner since 18-year-old Monica Seles in 1992.

Seles won nine majors in total, and there is no reason to think Swiatek, whose game style should translate well on all surfaces, won’t be able to achieve the same feat.  

Iga Swiatek, Roland-Garros 2020, finale, trophée, vestiaire©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Question marks over Serena’s hunt for No.24

Serena Williams’ quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title goes on, after she was forced to pull out of Roland-Garros before her second-round match, due to an Achilles problem that she picked up at the US Open and which had not had time to heal before arriving in Paris.
As she showed in New York, where she reached the semi-finals, Williams still has the desire and motivation to equal Margaret Court’s record major singles tally of 24 and overtake her. But at 39, time is running out for the American, while injuries take that bit longer to shake off.
The biggest problem for Williams is perhaps the sheer number of women who can win a slam. Swiatek, 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and Roland-Garros finalist Sofia Kenin have all shown they can cope with the pressure while three-time major champion Naomi Osaka, former world No. 1 Simona Halep and 2019 French Open winner Ashleigh Barty are all at the top of their games.
Wimbledon might be Williams’ best chance but it is not getting any easier.

Kenin will be in the mix

Kenin may have gone home deeply disappointed after missing out on the title on Saturday but the American should not be downhearted.
Having won the Australian Open at the start of 2020, she ends it with another Grand Slam final, more proof that she plays her best tennis at the biggest events.

The 21-year-old is a big-match player with a solid all-round game and the ability to be aggressive when she needs to. And as she did in Australia when she beat the home favourite Barty, she also showed she can handle a crowd. Mentally strong, and with a burning desire to win, she will surely be competing for more slam titles in the future.

Tennis is becoming truly global

Of the 128 women who started the main singles draw, 19 were American, followed by 12 from Russia, 11 from France and nine from the Czech Republic.

But in a sign that shows tennis is becoming a global sport played at a high level all over the world, former junior winner Ons Jabeur of Tunisia became the first Arab woman to reach the fourth round at Roland-Garros, while Mayar Sherif’s impressive qualifying run saw her become the first Egyptian woman to ever feature in a Grand Slam main draw.

Renata Zarazua also successfully qualified in Paris as the first Mexican woman to reach a major main draw since Angelica Gavaldon at Australian Open 2000. She stretched third-seeded Elina Svitolina to three sets before bowing out in the second round.

And then there is of course Swiatek, who became the first player from Poland to win a Grand Slam singles title.

All hail the drop shot

This year’s Roland-Garros, which was moved from the spring to the autumn because of the pandemic, was the year of the drop shot. The heavier than usual conditions made the ball die on the court, which turned the drop shot into a real weapon for many players.
Jabeur, who has always been the queen of the drop shot, used it as well as she always does but it was the way some others adopted it that was most striking.

From Petra Kvitova to Victoria Azarenka, and Kenin to Swiatek, the drop shot was everywhere, breaking up the opponent’s rhythm and often winning points altogether.

The greater variety, with the short slice also effective, made for some really interesting rallies that often ended up as highlights of the day on social media or television. During her quarter-final against fellow American Danielle Collins, Kenin showed you can even play the drop shot off the return. Variety is here to stay.

Opportunities grabbed, opportunities missed

We've seen incredible runs from qualifiers like Nadia Podoroska, who reached the semi-finals, and Martina Trevisan, who made it all the way to the quarter-finals - players who made the most of their opportunities and took their chance to shine on the sport's biggest stage.

Favourites like top-seeded Halep, third-seeded Svitolina, fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens and 11th-seeded Garbine Muguruza were not as clinical as they missed out on opportunities to go all the way, in a draw that was wide open.

In a year where everything is different and a player's capacity to adapt is proving to be a crucial component for success, it seems like the outsiders have done a slightly better job at doing that this past fortnight at Roland-Garros.