In the pre-match discussions before Iga Swiatek faced Karolina Muchova for the women’s singles French Open title on Saturday, the topic, on the Sony Sports Network, centered around whether we were at the beginning of a new tennis dynasty. India tennis legend Sania Mirza had no hesitation with her answer. The dynasty has already begun.
When Swiatek won her first Grand Slam at the 2020 French Open, she was another addition in the long list of first-time winners at Roland Garros. Women’s singles was anyway in an unpredictable phase, but French Open was especially so. Either side of between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova at the start of the last decade, we had witnessed many a surprise win on the Parisian clay.
Even for Swiatek, who often seems to be in a state of wonderment about her own growing stature in the game, 2022 felt like a chance to show that 2020 wasn’t a fluke. She was chasing that second Grand Slam title to tell herself that what happened with her first Slam, when she won it as an unseeded outsider (then the world No 54 who hadn’t won a title on tour before), wasn’t just happenstance.
And now here we are, in 2023, where Swiatek has won back-to-back Grand Slam titles on her favourite surface. There are, or should be, no doubts. The Swiatek era is well and truly upon us.
“Last year for sure it was a confirmation for me that the first time wasn’t a coincidence or something like that,” Swiatek said. “This one, for sure, it was a little bit tougher in terms of injuries and the pressure, and also coming back to this tournament as a defending champion, I right now feel like it’s a little bit different.”
A journalist, using a metaphor for Swiatek’s rather hilarious and clumsy trophy lift, asked her on Sunday at the press conference if she can lift the lid on how many titles she has left in her and what next? She said, “I’m not really looking that far. I’m just happy with what happened during these past few weeks. I don’t know what I’m kind of capable of. I will work day by day to play best game possible and to develop as a player. I’m not setting like any crazy records or goals for myself. I know that keeping it cool is the best way to do it for me – I’m trying more to do that.”
The stats, however, tell a clear story. Swiatek is the first player to win consecutive women’s singles titles at Roland Garros since the magnificent Justine Henin won three on the trot from 2005 to 2007. According to the WTA, the 22-year-old from Poland joined Monica Seles and Naomi Osaka as the only women in the Open Era to win each of their first four Grand Slam finals. Add to that, Switaek is the youngest since Seles in 1990-1992 to win consecutive titles at the French Open. And beyond all that, she will continue her reign as the world No 1.
The win against Muchova in the final itself was in complete contrast to how the rest of her fortnight went. She hadn’t dropped a set before the title clash, and had registered four 6-0’s. (We won’t get into the #IgaBakery discussion here for the bagels and breadsticks she dished out because it is evidently not something she enjoys, so fair play.)
But Muchova, after trailing by a set and 0-3 had other ideas. While Swiatek’s game slipped, the Czech Republic player fought back again. She had already shown what she was capable of, with an epic comeback from the brink against Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinal. And the game started to turn.
It took all the mental resolve that Swiatek had to fight back, even after going down by breaks twice in the deciding third set. The win itself felt sudden to the world No 1, because she was in the middle of a fistfight where she didn’t know when the next punch was going to come from Muchova, but was always around the corner. That the match ended on a double fault was as abrupt to her as it was to us.
“It’s hard to describe,” Swiatek said of her emotions at the end. “But a lot of happiness. I felt suddenly tired of these three weeks. Maybe my matches weren’t like physically exhausting, but it’s pretty hard to kind of keep your focus for these almost three weeks. And also the whole (clay court) swing. Since Stuttgart I haven’t been home. So I’m happy that I finished the whole clay court swing so well, and that I kind of survived. I guess I’m never going to kind of doubt my strength again maybe because of that.”
Indeed. We can’t quite be certain what the future holds. Serena Williams was the dominant factor in women’s tennis for so long that it wasn’t always easy to find repeat winners of Majors on tour. Osaka has been there briefly, Ash Barty did her bit but felt it was time to hang her rackets up sooner than most expected her to. And now we have Swiatek, who perhaps might not want to think too much about eras and such. But, as she grows in confidence and explores what she is capable of all by herself, we can be certain that we have a superstar in our midst.
Three French Open titles, and surely, counting for Iga Swiatek.