After winning her first French Open out of season in October as an unseeded teenager, Iga Swiatek proved that was absolutely no fluke by winning the title again in the spring as an overwhelming favorite.
Swiatek, now 21 and the No. 1 seed from Poland, cemented her status as the game’s dominant player by defeating Coco Gauff of the United States, 6-1, 6-3, in Saturday’s women’s final in just over an hour.
She even beat the rain, closing out the victory with thunder rumbling in the final game over the main Philippe Chatrier Court with its open roof.
Swiatek has been an irresistible force on any surface for the last four months, but red clay is her favorite playground. She took command on Saturday from the start to win her 35th straight match and sixth straight tournament.
“Two years ago, winning this title was something amazing,” Swiatek said. “Honestly I couldn’t expect better but this time I feel like I worked hard and did everything to get here even though it was pretty tough. The pressure was big.”
Her winning streak is the longest in more than 20 years, equaling Venus Williams’s 35-match streak in 2000.
“What you have done on the tour the last couple months is really amazing,” Gauff said to Swiatek on court.
Gauff, in her first Grand Slam singles final at age 18, sat in her chair courtside with tears streaming down her face after the defeat. She had not dropped a set in the previous rounds of the tournament, but she also had not faced a player ranked in the top 30. The step up proved too big on Saturday as Gauff lost to Swiatek for the third time in three encounters. Swiatek won more than 50 percent of points when returning both Gauff’s first and second serves and won 62 of the 101 points overall in the final.
“I just told Coco, ‘Don’t cry,’ and what am I doing now?” Swiatek said with a smile at Gauff as she gave a teary, halting speech to the Roland Garros crowd in which she thanked her team and offered her support to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
“Stay strong, because the war is still there,” she said as the crowd applauded her message at length under the now-closed roof.
Swiatek, an avid reader and excellent student during her high-school years, is a particularly thoughtful and engaged young champion. Gauff, the prodigy from Delray Beach, Fla., is a particularly thoughtful and engaged runner-up, prepared to use her sports success to speak out on social issues, like gun violence in the United States, which she did after her semifinal victory over Martina Trevisan on Thursday.
Just four years ago, they 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 elder, has stormed to the front of the women’s game since then with her aggressive style, powerful package of skills and detail-oriented approach to training.
She is 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 switched coaches in the off-season, hiring Tomasz Wiktorowski, who was working as a television analyst in Poland after many years of coaching retired Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska. Swiatek had finished the 2021 season in tears, crying on court before the finish of her round-robin match at the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico. She said her “battery” was too low to be able to control her emotions in that moment, but she decided she needed a change.
“When I came to the team in December, I said, ‘OK lets’ start with the strengths, not the weak points,'” Wiktorowski said. “It was for me really important for her to focus on what she did well, not just what she needed to improve.”
Her new team has clicked quickly, and she has not lost since February, compiling 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, winning her first major title without losing a set.
That French Open was played in the autumn after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was played without spectators, and Swiatek’s thunderous shots echoed through the all-but-empty Chatrier Court in the final rounds. But this has been a much more festive edition, with crowds making up for lost sporting events and packing the grounds and courts at Roland Garros from the start.
There were shouts and murmurs aplenty on Saturday as the two young stars arrived on the red clay with plenty of chants of “Coco” but also plenty of support for “Iga” from the large bloc of Polish fans clad in red and white.
But Gauff did not give her support group much to cheer for in the early going, losing her serve in a hurry in the opening game with a series of errors and one very edgy double fault. Swiatek was not at her sharpest early but as she has been throughout her streak, she was the more aggressive, proactive player.
She took a quick 4-0 lead before Gauff managed to hold serve, and Swiatek then closed out the opening set. There were few extended rallies on Saturday: the longest exchange was 15 shots and the average rally length under four shots, surprising in light of the defensive skills of both finalists.
Though Gauff managed to break Swiatek’s serve to open the second set and take a 2-0 lead, Swiatek settled himself and played one of her best games of the match to get back in control. She won five straight games, creating openings with wide serves and angled groundstrokes and then filling them with winners, while Gauff kept making mistakes with her less reliable forehand, finishing with 16 unforced forehand errors.
She served for the championship at 5-3 and finished off the victory with a first serve to Gauff’s forehand. The return sailed just long and Swiatek dropped to her knees, a French Open champion for the second time.
In light of her age, her long-range plan and her talent, it would come as quite a surprise if Swiatek, whose role model is 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, does not win at Roland Garros again.
Gauff, despite Saturday’s disappointment, will still have a chance to leave Paris a champion. She and partner Jessica Pegula will play in the women’s doubles final on Sunday against Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia of France.