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January 29, 2023

PARIS — Iga Swiatek is so efficient, so smooth, with racket in hand, seemingly never pissed off and, for months now, never beaten.

The only time she looked the least bit shaken on Saturday at Court Philippe Chatrier was after her 6-1, 6-3 win over Coco Gauff ended in the final, pushing No. No. 1, at 35 games and his Roland-Garros title counts down to two.

That’s when the tears flowed, first during the Polish national anthem – Swiatek is the only player from that nation to win a Grand Slam singles title – and, again, during of the award ceremony.

“I just said to Coco, ‘Don’t cry,'” said Swiatek, who won the 2020 French Open while still a teenager and ranked outside the top 50, “and what what am I doing right now?”

She interrupted herself several times during her victory speech, at one point warning, “Oh, my God. Looks like I still need some experience.” But Swiatek has also gathered his thoughts enough to offer support and wishes of hope to Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February.

“Stay strong, because the world is still here,” Swiatek told the Ukrainians, whose blue and yellow flag is represented by a ribbon of those colors she wore on her white cap during matches.

Gauff, an American appearing in her first Grand Final at 18, and just weeks away from celebrating her high school graduation with photos in a cap and dress near the Eiffel Tower, never had much luck – like most opponents against Swiatek lately.

Swiatek’s unbeaten run dates back to February and ties Venus Williams’ 2000 run as the longest this century.

“The last two months have been really amazing and you totally deserve it,” 18th-seeded Gauff, now 0-3 against Swiatek, told his 21-year-old opponent, then added with a chuckle: “ I hope we can play each other in more finals, and maybe I can win you one of these days.”

After winning her last six tournaments, going 42-3 this season, Swiatek has emerged as a dominant figure in tennis, with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams out of contention for nearly a year and three-time major champion Ash Barty announcing in March she would retire at 25 and forfeit the No. 1 ranking.

It lifted Swiatek to the top of the WTA, and she showed she was a deserving resident there.

“Two years ago, winning this title was something incredible. Honestly, I would never expect it,” Swiatek said. “But this time I feel like I worked hard and did everything to get here, even if it was quite difficult. The pressure was great.”

On the hottest day of the tournament, with a temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 Celsius), a few flashes of white in the blue sky at the start turned into thick and ominous gray clouds in the second set, accompanied by a bolt from the blue.

Gauff didn’t get off to the best of starts, perhaps reflecting the early nervousness that would be understandable from any player making his debut on this stage.

The player on the other side of the net is certainly no stranger to how things went for 1 hour and 8 minutes of the final.

Swiatek broke serve early on, with plenty of help from Gauff, who put a forehand into the net, double faulted – earning sighs of “Awwwww” from the crowd – threw a forehand into the net, and pushed another forehand long.

When Gauff’s work-in-progress forehand betrayed her again, it was 3-0 after just 15 minutes. Soon it was 4-0 in favor of Swiatek.

Not in all cases, of course, but often the spectators at Roland Garros tend to support an underdog or the trailing player – both applying to Gauff. So there was an overabundance of cries of “Come on, Coco!” One person shouted, “Coco, you can do it!” There were repeated cries of his two-syllable name ready to chant.

When Gauff came up on the board holding at 4-1, the cheers and roars were fitting for capturing a set, not just a match.

“You supported me, even when I was down,” Gauff told fans afterwards.

When things seemed to get out of hand, Gauff slapped his thigh or covered his eyes, shook his head or looked up at his parents in the stands.

What she never did was hesitate or concede anything.

Gauff started the second set by breaking Swiatek for the only time, then holding to come back 2-0 up. Could this turn into a much tighter contest? Could Gauff push Swiatek to a third set?

No. Swiatek quickly recalibrated and reasserted herself, falling back for 2-all as Gauff’s error propensity returned. In the end, Gauff had more unforced errors, 23-16, and also fewer winners: 14 for her, 18 for Swiatek.

Gauff hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament and was averaging almost six breaks per game on Saturday, but she only got one break point this afternoon. Swiatek got 10, converting half.

Swiatek doesn’t just win, but wins easily, already amassing 16 sets taken 6-0 in 2022 – and that’s only early June.

She does it with a mix of a topspin-laden heavy forehand – in the style of someone she greatly admires, 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who will face Casper Ruud in the men’s final on Sunday. — and an all-court match, filled with variety and an appreciation for setting up moves up front during a point. Kind of like a chess player, which she is.

Swiatek has other attributes as well, like solid footwork which allows him to play defense if needed.

Another key part of Swiatek’s presence and booming aura is his composure on the pitch. She traveled on tour with a sports psychologist, who was in Swiatek’s dressing room on Saturday, and is working on various elements of her professional and personal life.

This includes the emphasis on maintaining focus and setting priorities, such as the determination that she is still too new to this whole business of trying to win Grand Slam titles that she has decided it better not attend the Champions League football final in Paris last weekend, something Nadal did.

Maybe a few years from now, Swiatek figured a night out might be a welcome distraction. For now, Swiatek said, she felt she had to keep her full focus on tennis.

Why spoil the success?

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