Swiatek breaks new ground to reach first Slam final

Unseeded Polish teenager finishes qualifier Podoroska’s dream run in straight sets

 - Alex Sharp

Just a shrug of the shoulders towards her team, a smile combining relief, elation and realisation.

Teenager Iga Swiatek, taking such major success in her stride, has booked her first Grand Slam final with another “efficient” display.  

Swiatek halted Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska’s magical three weeks in Paris 6-2, 6-1.

It still has not sunk in the for the 19-year-old, the first Polish woman to feature in a Roland-Garros final in the Open Era and the first at any major since Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon 2012.

“It seems unreal. On one hand I know that I can play great tennis. On the other hand, it's kind of surprising for me. I never would have thought that I'm going to be in the final. It's crazy,” Swiatek said. “It's amazing for me, like a dream come true. 

“I think it's going to hit me, like, after the tournament. Right now, I'm just living the dream. I just want to focus on the other matches, on doubles. I'm going to enjoy everything after.”

In 12 from 12 sets, the Pole has ruthlessly ripped through the draw. The current world No.54 - projected to rise to world No.24 just for reaching the final - told ESPN earlier in the tournament “I learned tennis playing on my PlayStation”.

Whether it was a joke or not, you could see some resemblance on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Thursday. Swiatek rattled through points - click the controller for a pin-point serve, another click to arrow a groundstroke into the corners.

The 19-year-old was transferring up the court with consummate ease, whipping her forehand with menace, keeping Podoroska on the back foot throughout.

It was a performance any major champion would be proud of, leaving the Pole to orchestrate the limited crowd to raise the noise after just 69 minutes of action.

Swiatek keeps using the word “efficient” to describe her game Parisian path. Her climb up the ranks has certainly been efficient.

In just two years she has gone from Roland-Garros 2018 girls doubles champion, and a junior singles winner at Wimbledon that same summer, to disrupting the established order.

Last June, a Roland-Garros debut ended painfully when she salvaged just one game against a scintillating Simona Halep in the fourth round. 

Revenge came sweet at Roland-Garros 2020 as she swatted aside the top seed 6-1, 6-2, the highlight of six scorching performances.

Swiatek, travelling with a sports psychologist, is adamant her ruthless run in Paris is attributed to tranquility between the ears, as she builds the mental mechanisms for the major stage.

I always wanted to work with a psychologist because I had this belief that it's like a big part of the game," she said. "But my parents, like, they weren't as open to that as I was. Actually, I don't know where that came from, to be honest.

“I feel like I've been so efficient and so focused for whole matches that I put a lot of pressure on my opponents. I'm not even nervous in second sets because I know it's going to probably go my way. 

“It's going to be different in a final because I'm going to play a much more experienced player. I will need to be on a different level, the higher level, even though I'm winning easily right now.”

The teenager will face Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who edged past the rejuvenated two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova

“Sofia, she’s on fire this year,” said the Pole, having dropped just 23 games en route to the final. “Usually I'm that kind of player who is playing better under pressure. If I'm not going to choke up, I think everything will be fine.

“There's a reason why I was so efficient. Really, I'm staying super focused. I'm not letting my opponents to play their best tennis. So, I hope I'm going to do that on Saturday.

“I have no expectations. I don't care if I'm going to lose or win. I'm going to just play my best tennis. The final is also a great result, so really I have no pressure.”

Earlier this fortnight, Swiatek told rolandGarros.com she was treating the next couple of campaigns as a gap year of sorts. Sustained tennis silverware will determine whether the Pole remains on tour, or heads on to further her studies.

“Well, right now it's going to be hard to make a decision to go back to studying because I feel like really I can achieve big things,” Swiatek said. “But really I'm only 19, so a lot can change during few years. We're going to see. Maybe I'm going to be hungry for knowledge.

“Right now it would be hard for me to study in this tournament and after. So I'm just going to focus on tennis-related stuff as good as I can. I think if I'm going to be in a few finals of Grand Slams, it would be impossible to study and playing that kind of tennis consistently. I'm just going to see how the situation develops.”

It’s an early guess, but university might have to be deferred for several seasons to come.