PARIS (AP) — Iga Swiatek’s winning streak started to feel like a burden, she said, with all the attention he gained as he grew, all the pressure to keep him going, especially with a Grand Slam in sight.
As good as his forehand was, as skilful as his first hitting reflexes were, as much as his serve just kept getting better, what Swiatek needed, above all else, was a way to silence the noise, d ignore all the stats and facts, and find a way to focus – game after game, set after set, game after game, point by point, blow by blow.
During the French Open, she did it away from the court reading (“The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas was a choice) and on the court singing in her head (a song by Dua Lipa that she described as “guilty pleasure”). Above all, she let her game dominate the day. Thanks to a 6-1, 6-3 win over 18-year-old American Coco Gauff in Saturday’s final, the top-seeded Swiatek leave Roland Garros with their second championship – and a 35-match unbeaten streak.
“It’s, like, basically the hardest part of the job, I would say, because you can see at the Grand Slam there are a lot of surprises. It’s not easy to deal with all this different atmosphere and pressure,” said Swiatek, who is 21, after adding that trophy to the one she won in Paris in 2020 when she was ranked outside the top 50. “For me, I felt the baggage. The hardest thing is not to let yourself think about that and over-analyze and not let yourself think about all the numbers and all the odds.
Oh yes. Numbers. They are impressive.
Swiatek has won his last six tournaments. She has won 56 of her last 58 sets. She is 42-3 this season. She won 16 sets by a score of 6-0. And her unbeaten streak is now better than the best Serena Williams has ever had, 34, and equals the longest this century (Williams’ older sister Venus played 35 games in 2000).
“To kind of do something more than Serena did,” Swiatek said, “is something special.”
Swiatek has become a dominant figure in tennis, bridging a divide that presented itself with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena out of action for nearly a year and three-time major champion Ash Barty announcing in March that she would take her 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.
“She does a good job of taking the pressure moments and really rising to the occasion. And today she rose to the occasion,” said 18th-seeded Gauff, who was in her first Grand Slam final and hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament “I’m doing pretty well too, but today she was just on another level.”
Gauff is now 0-3 against Swiatek.
“The last two months have been really amazing and you totally deserve it,” Gauff told Swiatek, then added with a chuckle: “Hopefully we can play each other in more finals, and maybe I I can win over you one of these days.”
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. The match ended after 1 hour and 8 minutes, before the rain arrived.
Gauff didn’t have the best of starts: it was 4-0 in the blink of an eye.
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 long forehand.
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 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.
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 focus her full attention on tennis.
Why spoil the success?
More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports