September 30, 2022

For 68 minutes, Iga Swiatek captivated the tennis world.

On Saturday, her dazzling athletic play dismantled teenage phenom Coco Gauff, 6-1, 6-3, and Swiatek became the women’s singles champion at Roland Garros 2022.

She won the first four games of the match – and never looked back.

It was Swiatek’s second major title and her 35th straight win, tying her with Venus Williams for the longest WTA winning streak this millennium.

She hasn’t lost a match since February 16.

“To get that kind of streak, I needed everything,” she told NBC’s Maria Taylor on Saturday. “I needed to be there mentally, [and also] physically to be ready because I had a lot of long matches during that time. On the tennis side, I needed to be more aggressive, and I finally figured out how to do it. It all comes together.”

Swiatek, who turned 21 earlier this week, won five titles this year before Roland Garros, including four at the 1000 level. She reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in early April and now has almost twice as many points as anyone else.

“What you’ve done on tour over the past two months has been truly amazing, and you totally deserve it,” Gauff said in tears as he presented the trophy on the pitch. “I hope we can face each other in more finals and that I can win against you one of these days.”

When Swiatek arrived in Paris two years ago, she was a virtual stranger. She entered the tournament ranked No. 54 but stunned the field and left as champion.

Less than two years later, Swiatek leaves Paris as a dominant force in women’s tennis and ready for future greatness. It seems the WTA has found the elusive superstar talent who can consistently fight for major titles on different surfaces – and do what so few have been able to do since Serena Williams was in her prime.

“She kind of reached a different level than all of us right now,” said Jessica Pegula, who lost to Swiatek in the quarterfinals. “Yeah, it’s a little scary.

Fear is not an unusual emotion for Swiatek’s opponents these days.

Before the start of the match in Paris, four-time Major champion Naomi Osaka told reporters that she had a dream in which the draw took place and she had to face Swiatek in the first round.

“I was scared because I thought, like [who’s] the worst possible player to play when I’m not seeded,” Osaka said. “She came to mind. Thank goodness that didn’t happen.”

To sum up Osaka’s nightmare more succinctly: “Anyone who wanted to win this championship wanted to be in the bottom half of the table and away from Iga,” said 21-time major doubles champion and ESPN analyst Pam Shriver.

Former US Open quarter-finalist Lesia Tsurenko made the shortest straw. She faced Swiatek in the first round and lasted just 54 minutes on the court in a 6-2, 6-0 rout. Swiatek’s other opponents didn’t fare much better.

Swiatek lost just one set – to 19-year-old Qinwen Zheng in the fourth round – en route to the final. She only lost eight games in total against Pegula and Daria Kasatkina, in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. Both games lasted less than 90 minutes.

“I think his athleticism is very off the charts,” Pegula said before their game. “I think his defense is really, really, really good, kind of like an Ashleigh Barty where they have offense and defense, they can get into the corners, dig in points, play really good defense and then also take the racket sometimes. And then I think she’s become a lot more offensive this year, she’s been more aggressive when needed.”

In Saturday’s match, the 18-year-old Gauff was undoubtedly nervous in her first Grand Final, and she struggled from the get-go. Swiatek immediately jumped on his opponent’s unforced errors and nerves and showed his almost flawless variety and movement. As Gauff broke Swiatek in the opener of the second set and then won her own service game to take a 2-0 lead, Swiatek never looked frustrated or let herself get lost. She won the next five matches.

“It’s the ease of most of his games during this winning streak that has impressed me the most,” Shriver said. “Iga faced some stress in Paris, but she overcame the pressure of the scoreboard with exceptional play.”

Swiatek tied Venus Williams’ longtime mark on Saturday and broke the tie with Serena Williams. This achievement was not lost on Swiatek.

“To have this 35th win and to do something more than Serena is something special,” Swiatek said. “Because I always wanted, I don’t know, to have some sort of record. In tennis, it’s quite difficult after Serena’s career.”

Swiatek had modest success in his first year on tour in 2019, with a fourth-round appearance at Roland Garros and his first appearance in the WTA Finals, in Lugano. She steadily rose through the ranks. But it was at the 2020 French Open where, as an unranked player, she showed the world just how good she could be.

Just like this year, Swiatek stormed the court – allowing no opponent to win more than five games – and beat top seed Simona Halep in just over an hour, 6-1, 6- 2 in the fourth round. She showed more of the same in the final – easily beating defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 to become the first Polish player in history to win a singles title in the Grand Slam.

Her performance in Paris was so breathtaking that John McEnroe, commentating the match for NBC, enthusiastically proclaimed on the show: “The way she’s playing right now, it would be hard to imagine she wouldn’t win. half a dozen major tournaments.” Other sports legends were quick to echo his enthusiasm for his future.

But Swiatek, a student of the game, knew such a task would not be easy. She was the fifth consecutive major champion in the Roland Garros women’s draw, and she had seen other women achieve success but struggle to keep up.

After the biggest win of her life, the 19-year-old made no McEnroe-esque promises of more titles. But she knew exactly what she needed to do and was candid about her hopes for the future.

“I know my game is not fully developed,” Swiatek told reporters. “Also, I think the biggest change for me is going to be being consistent. I think that’s what women’s tennis is struggling with. That’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners because that we’re not, like, as consistent as Rafa [Nadal]roger [Federer] and Novak [Djokovic].

“That’s why my goal will be to be consistent. It will be really difficult to achieve that.”

She didn’t quite get there immediately — despite being the only woman in 2021 to reach week two at all four majors — but this season Swiatek has been the classic definition of consistency. She reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and since then she has been perfect.

And while she could very well have been on her way to the world No. 1 ranking anyway, she got a surprising assist from then-top-ranked Barty when the latter announced her retirement in March. Swiatek would take the throne.

Rennae Stubbs, a four-time major doubles champion and ESPN analyst, remembers seeing Swiatek in the parking lot before the Miami Open started, right after Barty’s revelation. Stubbs was walking into the facility with Samantha Stosur, whom she coaches, and she couldn’t help but recognize the occasion.

“Here’s the new number 1,” Stubbs told him in a congratulatory tone.

Swiatek grimaced, almost as if she was uncomfortable with the attention, or maybe just stunned by it.

“But since then she’s shown that she’s not just happy to be number 1,” Stubbs said. “She wanted to prove that she belonged there.”

Swiatek won in Miami. And since then, she has won everywhere else too. Throughout the streak, her fans are enamored with her eclectic taste for bombastic music (ranging from Dua Lipa to Led Zeppelin in Paris) and her extensive playlist.

She chooses to use the platform she has to reach for causes close to her heart – wearing a Ukrainian flag pin on her game hat for most of the Russian invasion and acknowledging the ongoing conflict in her victory speech on Saturday.

Swiatek emerged with the Suzanne Lenglen Cup on Saturday, and many believe it was a preview of the next decade in professional tennis – and perhaps the start of the next big rivalry.

“They are two great young tennis players and even better people,” Stubbs said. “Hopefully we’re going to see this final played out many, many times over the next 10 years, and hopefully that will spark a little rivalry. What they both did by reaching the final is is to let us know that they’re here to stay. I’m really excited because I adore them both. They’re special kids, and that’s really fantastic for the future of women’s tennis.”

Swiatek will now have all eyes on her as the season turns to grass. She has played Wimbledon just twice before. She reached the fourth round last year and won the junior title at the All England Club in 2018. Despite having limited surface experience, she is already the favorite to win the title, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

These kind of heavy expectations could cause other players to crumble. But so far, Swiatek has shown no signs of that. In fact, she said the pressure has only helped her realize how much she can handle.

“I felt like the sky was the limit for me, so I feel freer right now,” she said earlier this week. “I feel like I’ve proven myself.”