Perfectionist Swiatek learning to be poles apart

The Pole retained her crown to win a third consecutive Roland-Garros singles title

Iga Swiatek / Victoire finale Roland-Garros 2024©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

During the women's final trophy presentation, runner-up Jasmine Paolini began with an admission most the of tennis world would agree with.

"To play you here is the toughest challenge in this sport."

The Italian was of course congratulating Iga Swiatek, who is now a four-time Roland-Garros champion.

The world No.1 hasn't lost a match in Paris since 2021; Swiatek is being hailed the 'Queen of clay' and is joining all-time greats with her on-court accomplishments. 

"It means a lot. This tournament has been pretty surreal with the second round, and then I was able to get my game better and better every match," she said.

"I'm really proud of myself, because the expectations obviously have been pretty high from the outside. Pressure, as well. I'm happy that I just went for it and I was ready to deal with all of this."

Dealing with the outside noise, the hype, the expectations to roll opponents on the terre battue, is an evolving process for the now five-time major winner.

"When I do anything, I want to do it 100 per cent. I think when you're a perfectionist, you are a perfectionist everywhere," the 23-year-old said.

"I'm working on it and this is a tricky thing, because for sure it helps you to be better, but sometimes it can be huge baggage.

"I think I'm fine handling my own pressure. It's when the pressure from the outside hits me, then it's a little bit worse. But I managed it really well at this tournament, I'm very proud of that."

It could have been a very different fortnight for the world No.1 had Naomi Osaka stolen away one last point during their captivating second round epic. Osaka was 3-0 up in the decider and held a match point at 5-3. Swiatek, however, blazed back.

That great escape empowered her. The world No.1 surrendered 17 games to Osaka, whilst only relinquishing a further 20 games in total to her other six opponents in Paris.

Major players thrive from major moments. Swiatek is no exception.

Iga Swiatek, finale, Roland-Garros 2024©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

"For sure it gives me the feeling that I should always believe in myself, that I can find my tennis even if I'm in big trouble. With this tennis, I can fight back. It gives me confidence," explained the top seed.

"I'll always try my best no matter what the score is. Sometimes it's going to add up like that; sometimes I'm gonna lose. But when you're trying your best, it's always the best solution, because you have no regrets and you can turn tournaments into something like that (pointing towards the trophy)."

Hall of Fame duo Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova joined Swiatek on stage for the trophy presentation. There's now plenty of talk of Swiatek challenging Evert's record of seven women's singles titles on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Who can stop this perfectionist Pole?

"I think we already have some players that I've been facing a lot, like Aryna (Sabalenka), Coco (Gauff), Elena (Rybakina). So, it's not like we don't have that but for sure it's not so obvious like Roger (Federer), Novak (Djokovic), and Rafa (Nadal)," Swiatek said.

"Sometimes it's the draw, sometimes it's the fact that one player is going to play well here, one player is going to play well in another place. So I can for sure imagine that (a rivalry), but I don't know which of these players that would be or maybe somebody new. We'll see."

Swiatek's idol Rafael Nadal won Wimbledon following his fourth Roland-Garros title in 2008. For sure, the world No.1 is capable of replicating that SW19 success, but she must first better a 2023 quarter-final exit.

Iga Swiatek, finale, trophée, Roland-Garros 2024©Philippe Montigny / FFT

"I had these ideas, like doing pre-season on grass so I can learn how to play there. Last year's result was pretty nice," recalled Swiatek. 

"I feel like every year it's easier for me to adapt to grass. So I think there is no need to do that. I just need to continue the work that I've been doing, and it's been easier every year, especially with my coach who, with (Agnieszka) Radwanska, they had great results on grass.

"For sure it's a huge challenge. If I would lose here earlier, maybe I would be able to play two more weeks on grass and then be a better grass player, but if I would choose, I love playing on clay, so I'm not going to give up that ever."