After winning her first off-season French Open in October as an unseeded teenager, Iga Swiatek proved it was no fluke by winning the title again in the spring as the overwhelming favorite.
Poland No. 1 Swiatek cemented her status as the game’s dominant player by beating Coco Gauff of the United States 6-1, 6-3 in just over an hour in Saturday’s women’s final.
Swiatek, 21, has been an irresistible force on any surface for the past four months, but red clay is her favorite playground. She took charge from the start on Saturday, winning her 35th straight match and sixth straight tournament.
“Winning this title two years ago was something amazing,” said Swiatek. “Honestly, I couldn’t have expected anything better, but this time I feel like I’ve worked hard and done everything to get here, even though it was pretty tough. The pressure was great.”
Gauff, in her first Grand Slam singles final at the age of 18, sat in her chair on the sidelines after the loss with tears streaming down her face. She hadn’t lost a set in the tournament, but she hadn’t faced a top 30 player either. The step up proved too big on Saturday as Gauff lost to Swiatek for the third time in three encounters.
“I just told Coco, ‘Don’t cry,’ and what do I do now?” Swiatek told Gauff with a smile as she delivered a tearful speech to the Roland Garros crowd.
Just four years ago, both played in the French Open girls tournament, with Gauff winning the title and Swiatek losing in the semifinals. But Swiatek, nearly three years Gauff’s senior, has since stormed to the top of women’s football with her aggressive style, powerful skill set and detail-oriented approach to coaching.
She’s one of the first tennis players to travel with a full-time performance psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, and despite finishing in the top 10 last year, she changed coaches during the offseason, hiring Tomasz Wiktorowski, who worked as a TV presenter and analyst in Poland after many years coaching retired Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska.
Her new team clicked quickly, and she hasn’t lost since February, averaging a 42-3 record in 2022 and winning the titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and now Paris, where she broke through in 2020 and won her first major title without dropping a set.
These French Opens were held in the fall after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was played without spectators and Swiatek’s thunderous shots echoed through the almost empty Chatrier Court in the final rounds. But this was a much more celebratory edition, with crowds catching up on lost sporting events and filling the grounds and pitches at Roland Garros from the start.
There was plenty of shouting and murmuring on Saturday as the two young stars arrived on the red sand with many shouts of ‘Coco’ but also plenty of support for ‘Iga’ from the large group of Polish fans dressed in red and white.
But Gauff didn’t give much cheer to her support group early on, losing serve in the opening game in a rush with a series of errors and a very nervous double fault. Swiatek wasn’t at her best to start, but as she has throughout her streak, she was the more aggressive, proactive player.
She quickly went 4-0 before Gauff could hold and Swiatek then finished the opening set. Although Gauff managed to break Swiatek’s serve, opening the second set and taking a 2-0 lead, Swiatek settled down and played one of their best games of the game to regain control. She won five games in a row, created openings with wide serves and angled groundstrokes, then filled them with winners.
She served up 5-3 for the championship and completed the win with a first serve to Gauff’s less-reliable forehand wing. The return was a long sail and Swiatek fell to her knees, second-time French Open champion.
Given her age, long-term plan and talent, it would be quite surprising if Swiatek – whose role model is 13-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal – didn’t win again at Roland Garros.
Despite the disappointment on Saturday, Gauff still has a chance to leave Paris as a champion. She and partner Jessica Pegula will face France’s Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia in Sunday’s women’s doubles final.