French Open: “Queen of Clay” Iga Swiatek seals a Roland Garros hat-trick | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

French Open: “Queen of Clay” Iga Swiatek seals a Roland Garros hat-trick

Jun 08, 2024 11:21 PM IST

World No.1 crushes Italy’s surprise finalist Jasmine Paolini to lift the French Open trophy for the fourth time, and a 5th Slam

What makes Iga Swiatek so good on clay? Is it her serve? She tweaked it a few years ago and has undoubtedly become more versatile and accurate. Is it her powerful play from the baseline? Her incredible forehand, perhaps? She can generate over 3,400 rotations per minute from that shot, which is similar to what some of the best male players produce. How is it that at 23, she’s already on her way to being one of the greats on the surface?

Poland's Iga Swiatek poses for a picture with the trophy after winning her final match against Italy's Jasmine Paolini(REUTERS)
Poland's Iga Swiatek poses for a picture with the trophy after winning her final match against Italy's Jasmine Paolini(REUTERS)

Ahead of her French Open final with 12th seed Jasmine Paolini on Saturday, people ran polls on social media wondering whether Swiatek would produce another bagel (6-0 set). It may seem like a ridiculous question to ask heading into a Grand Slam final, but considering that the irrepressible Pole was facing a first-time Major finalist on the red dirt of Paris, it felt very possible. And the Pole almost lived up to that lofty expectation, winning 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour to claim her fourth Roland Garros title and fifth Major overall.

The world No.1 became the third player in the Open Era, after Monica Seles (1990 to ’92) and Justine Henin (2005 to ’07) to win the French Open women’s singles title three years in a row. She also became the fourth woman, after Henin (4), Steffi Graf (6) and Chris Evert (7) to win the tournament four times. After Serena Williams in 2013, she’s only the second woman to win the Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros titles in the same year.

With the majority of her career still ahead of her, one can only imagine where she’ll finish on this list.

As she completed her three-peat in Paris, Swiatek won 40 of the 43 completed sets she competed in. Ten of those were bagels. The closest she came to losing during this 21-match unbeaten run was in the 2023 final against Karolina Muchova, when the Czech served at 4-3 in the third set. And in the second round this year against Naomi Osaka, when the Japanese star had a match point on serve at 5-3 in the decider.

So, again, what’s been the secret behind her invincibility on clay? It goes without saying that she’s extremely driven. Her shots seem mechanical at times because of how accurate they are, and that can only happen by following mundane practice routines obsessively day in, day out. Her preparation is so thorough, her game so efficient, that she blows most opponents off court even by playing well within herself.

But the real magic appears on the rare occasions when she’s put under pressure, like Muchova and Osaka managed to do. Such is her conviction that she can turn the situation around no matter how hopeless it may appear. This wasn’t always the case as she struggled with nerves in the early stages of her career, and her sports physiologist Daria Abramowicz probably deserves immense credit. But these days there’s precious little that fazes Swiatek, particularly on clay. It’s as if a switch gets flicked on and the errors disappear when her back is to the wall. It’s the sort of elite mentality that’s helped her win 22 of the 26 finals she’s competed in.

Against Paolini on Saturday, she was broken early but went on to win 11 of the last 12 games. The 28-year-old Italian, who had got past the fourth round at a Major for the first time, was made to look a shadow of the player who beat fourth seed Elena Rybakina and the up-and-coming Mira Andreeva in the previous two rounds.

“It’s amazing to be here. I love this place. I wait every year to come back,” Swiatek said after her latest victory. “I was almost out of the tournament (in the second round). I also needed to believe this one is going to be possible; it’s been a really emotional tournament.”

Swiatek was all of 19 when she triumphed at Roland Garros for the first time. She’s now the only player along with Seles to have won her first five women’s singles Grand Slam finals. She’s in a league of her own at the moment and seems on course to establishing herself among the pantheon of all-time greats.

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