Gritty Swiatek battles to third RG triumph

 - Dan Imhoff

World No.1 picks up fourth major crown with three-set victory over Muchova

Iga Swiatek, finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Amid a revolving door of Grand Slam champions, Iga Swiatek has survived a spirited Karolina Muchova and bucked a trend with her third Roland-Garros crown on Saturday.

The first woman to go back-to-back in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007, the top seed stepped up and snuffed out the resurgent first-time major finalist, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.

Not since Serena Williams at Wimbledon seven years ago had a woman retained a Grand Slam trophy.

After conceding her first set of the fortnight, it was a resounding reminder she was still the woman to beat in what was her toughest of four successful major finals won.

"I'm feeling all these different emotions right now. It's pretty surreal, everything," Swiatek said. "The match was really intense, a lot of ups and downs. Stressful moments and coming back, you know. So I'm pretty happy that at the end I could be solid in those few last games and finish it.

"But Karolina really played well. It was a big challenge. I'm happy and really proud of myself that I did it."

Following in the footsteps of the likes of Henin, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles before her, it only adds to the Pole’s dominance on clay and boosts arguments of a burgeoning Swiatek era in Paris.

Prior to her fifth Roland-Garros campaign, pundits were eagerly building up the prospects of a Big Three in women’s tennis, following the recent Grand Slam-winning exploits of Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

Iga Swiatek, Karolina Muchova, Roland-Garros 2023, final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Never one to buy into hype, the 22-year-old diplomatically deflected those notions at every turn and spoke of a need to focus on working her own way into contention.

By reaching the final, the 22-year-old extended her stay at world No.1 and with victory, talk of a Big Three – for now – has subsided again to a dull murmur.

"I don't really analyse that," Swiatek said. "I look at my clay-court season and I see on every tournament I really played consistently. I reached, you know, like quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals, I won Stuttgart, I won this tournament,

"I'm kind of just focused on myself and I don't care about the other two players."

Karolina Muchova, finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Muchova came into the showdown a perfect five from five against top-three opponents – four of those at majors – an enviable record she was unaware of until it was pointed out in the aftermath of her match point-saving upset of second seed Sabalenka in the semi-finals.

Bidding to become the first player to defeat the world’s top two at a major since Svetlana Kuznetsova won Roland-Garros in 2009, she had some task ahead of her to add Swiatek’s name to that list on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The 26-year-old – finally enjoying a stretch free of the injuries that plagued her recent seasons – had beaten her opponent in their only prior encounter, but that was when both were hovering around the top 100 in Prague four years ago.

This was a wildly different prospect and the Pole made an authoritative start on her most familiar major stage.

Iga Swiatek, finale, trophée, Roland-Garros 2023 ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The weight of the moment weighed immediately on the Czech as she surrendered her opening serve and in a whirlwind 10 minutes, she had lost the first three games.

Muchova needed a nerve-settling hold to stem the flow. It came in the fourth game and while she held break points in the ensuing game, she struggled to contain the errors, such was the pressure from the opposite end.

The first set was secured after 45 minutes and Muchova’s best intentions of starting with a clean slate in the second set were in disarray when Swiatek again opened up a 3-0 lead.

The Czech’s time was fast running out. Pegged into a corner she secured her first break of the match with a blazing forehand on the run and with the Chatrier crowd behind her, it set off a dramatic turnaround as she served out the set at the second time of asking.

Both women struggled to consolidate their advantage in a tension-filled final set.

Twice Swiatek fell behind a break only to dig her way out.

Having struggled on serve throughout the third, the top seed managed to break Muchova for the seventh time when the Czech's second serve found the net.

Swiatek crouched in relief and buried her head. Never had she been pushed so far in a major final. It made victory taste that much sweeter.