Iga Swiatek started speaking with a disclaimer. “I am not used to this,” she said, referring to victory speeches. Well, the tennis world is not used to this either -- a 19-year-old winning at Roland Garros. The last time someone did that was in 2005, when a young kid from Mallorca, Rafael Nadal, captured his first of 12 (possibly 13 by tomorrow), French Open crowns. Rafa has to wait for his turn though. The day and the moment in tennis history belongs to Swiatek, who became the first player from Poland to win a singles Grand Slam crown, after sealing the 2020 French Open title on October 10.
Swiatek maintained her dominance through the match against Sofia Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion and the overwhelming favourite going into the final on the Philippe Chatrier court at Roland Garros in Paris. Swiatek closed the match 6-4, 6-1, maintaining her winning momentum through the fortnight, not losing a single set en route the title.
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“Just two years ago I won the Junior Grand Slam title and now this. It feels incredible,” said the World No. 54. Yes, the Pole was not just an outsider, but a ranked outsider.
As one of the pundits pointed out over the broadcast feed, the best of victory speeches come when spoken from the heart. Swiatek’s speech was a mix of both, though. One could see the fight in her, a part of her trying to express her emotions without being overwhelmed, while her conditioning in the junior circuit kicked in every now and then, forcing her into the “thank you” routine. She thanked everyone, while the tennis world would be thanking her for the freshness she brought onto the court.
“I just played my usual game that I maintained during the whole season -- just aggressive,” she said, talking about the style of play that made her look invincible in Paris this year.
She did look invincible in the second set against Kenin. However, one could sense the nerves in the opener. So much so that at one point, there were evident signs Swiatek might succumb to the pressure.
The match began with Swiatek, who looked confident and determined, pushing Kenin onto the back foot. She won the opening two games but Kenin slowly started asserting herself, keeping the rallies short, and clawed things back to 3-3. Nerves, and a few unforced errors crept in Swiatek’s game. She broke Kenin again only to lose her own service game. At that point, with Swiatek facing Kenin’s service leading 5-4, one felt the opening set sliding into a tie-break, where the more seasoned American could have an advantage.
Swiatek, however, broke Kenin again. In fact, more than aggression, it was the way the 19-year-old mixed things up -- a volley there, a spinning drop shot here, beside devastating forehand shots down the line -- that left Kenin at sea. The American could not settle into her rhythm right through the match, while a niggling thigh injury made things worse.
By the start of the second set, Kenin was struggling with the injury on her left thigh, which was heavily strapped. Kenin took a timeout to get some medical attention for her injury but by then she had lost the initiative and the momentum to Swiatek.
“Just another underdog winning the Women’s Grand Slam title feels amazing,” said Swiatek in the post-match presser, true to her disclaimer before that. She is yet to become good at this, But one was left with a feeling that in a couple of year’s time, this might become routine for her -- the victory speeches.
For the record, Swiatek became the first Grand Slam singles champion from Poland, and the youngest Roland Garros champion since Nadal in 2005, who was also 19 when he lifted his first title in Paris. She is the second youngest player to win the women's title at the French Open -- the record belonging to Monica Seles, who lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 1990 as a 16-year-old.
Swiatek is the lowest ranked French Open winner. The ranking would obviously change, and so will her ability to articulate at post championship ceremonies, a skill, no doubt, but of much lesser importance than what she possesses in oodles -- a prodigious talent in tennis!
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