For the first time in her career, Iga Swiatek has come into a Grand Slam as a World No 1. And she’s played in a way worthy of that ranking, storming through the French Open field, losing just one set in the process, to reach the second Major final in her career after winning the 2020 Roland Garros crown.
She’s been on a stellar run of form, and she asserted, after her 6-2, 6-1 semi-final win over Daria Kasatkina, that she’s only getting better.
“I’m even more happy with the performance than after the previous match (6-3, 6-2 quarterfinal win over Jessica Pegula). Because I feel like my game is getting more and more solid,” she said.
“I can really loosen up when I’m getting advantage and when I’m having a break, so that’s great. I feel like I’m playing better every match.”
It was only in the fourth round against Chinese teenager Qinwen Zheng where she dropped a set, losing in the 7-5 in the first set tiebreak. But the 21-year-old Pole raised her game to come up with a 6-7(5), 6-0, 6-2 win.
Apart from that match, she’s lost more than four games in a single set just once more, when she beat Danka Kovinic 6-3, 7-5 in the third round. Crucial to her success has been her ability to raise her game when challenged.
“When I learned how to also improve during tournaments and how to loosen up during tournaments, I think it’s pretty great, because the beginnings are tough. Here I feel better and better every match, so I hope it’s going to stay that way,” she said.
“It’s a nice feeling to have, because usually, it’s sometimes the opposite. For other players when they are going to higher rounds they are more stressed, and I’m working pretty hard at the beginning to avoid that.”
And the rock music aficionado has remained mentally calm throughout the incredible run in Paris, especially now that she’s in the final.
“I try not to hold it inside, and I try to talk with the whole team about it. It’s just cool that I have people around that I trust, and I can just talk about some stuff over lunch,” she added.
“But for sure the pep talks that I have before the match are really helpful, both from the coach (Tomasz Wiktorowski) and from Daria (Abramowicz, my psychologist). We already have this kind of routine that is working perfectly, and we are trying to hold on to that.”
On Saturday, she’ll take on Coco Gauff in the final. But the 18-year-old, playing in her first senior Major final, also finds herself at peace.
She has been outspoken about social issues, and has been vocal about the gun violence problem that has plagued her country recently – even writing ‘Peace, Stop gun violence’ on the camera after she beat Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1 in the semi-final.
“Since I was younger… my dad told me I could change the world with my racquet. He didn’t mean that by just playing tennis. He meant speaking out on issues like this,” Gauff said in the press conference.
“The first thing my dad said to me after I got off court (was) I’m proud of you and I love what you wrote on the camera.”
For Gauff, tennis isn’t the only thing there is to life.
“I feel like I put myself in a bubble to the point where it was like tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis. And I realise, really talking to my family in general, my grandmother, she’s always like, ‘There’s more to life than this. You just need to relax when you’re out there’,” she said.
“I always brushed it over, like, ‘You can’t relax in these situations’. Now I look at it, I’m like, ‘You’re right, I can relax in these situations. It’s just a tennis match… Whatever happens, it happens’. I think that’s probably helped me being in that mindset.”
But 2018 Junior French Open champion isn’t taking Saturday’s final lightly.
“I’m definitely ready to win ([a Slam) but I’m not putting pressure on myself to win one. I think there’s a fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too much…,” she said.
“If I do lift the trophy, honestly, I don’t think my life is going to change. I know it sounds kind of bad to say that, but the people who love me are still going to love me regardless if I lift the trophy or not.”
As for Swiatek though, a win in the final will take her level with Venus Williams record of winning 35 matches on the trot (since 2000). It’s a streak that has seen the Pole win titles in Rome, Stuttgart, Miami, Indian Wells and Doha. And now she’s gunning for the big one in Paris.
“Just being able to be in the final again, it’s great. Especially when I didn’t know actually how I’m gonna play here after so many tournaments that I played,” she added.
“It seemed kind of obvious for me that the streak may come to an end soon. So I just wanted to take it really step by step. I didn’t have any exact goals on this tournament. Just seeing how my game is developing every match, it’s something that’s giving me a lot of hope and I’m just proud of myself.”