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Iga Swiatek From Poland wins Roland Garros And Is Now Chasing Down Rafa Nadal

Iga Swiatek of Poland celebrates with the trophy after winning against Sofia Kenin of the USA.

By Alix Ramsay

She adores Rafa Nadal. Mats Wilander reckons her forehand is the nearest thing to Rafa’s in the women’s game. Now her goal is be as consistent as Rafa at every grand slam tournament she plays. Women’s tennis had better prepare itself: Iga Swiatek is just getting started.

The 19-year-old became the first Pole, female or male, to win a grand slam title on Saturday when she beat Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 to claim the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen and take her place in the record books as the 2020 French Open champion.

Throughout the past two weeks, Swiatek has swatted aside every opponent. On average, she had dropped less than two games a match on her way to the final (for purists, she dropped 23 games in six rounds – you do the maths if you want an exact figure). She has been charming and unassuming off-court and utterly ruthless on it. No nerves, no panic; just relentless winning.

Iga Swiatek in action against Sofia Kenin during their women’s final match.

But she had never won a tour level event before, much less challenged for a grand slam title. Surely the jitters had to kick in at some point. Apparently not.

Swiatek has worked with the sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, for the past couple of years and the nerveless calm Abramowicz has managed to instil in her supremely gifted charge defies belief.

Relying on the regular routines that have brought her success – keep the expectations low; concentrate on the things you can control like tactics and technique – Swiatek was the front runner for the 84 minutes it took her to win the title.

Kenin tried – she always tries – but a nagging left thigh injury brought her down in the second set. Where Swiatek had romped through the draw, all but one of Kenin’s matches on her way to Saturday had gone the distance. By the second or third round – she couldn’t remember which – her leg was beginning to hurt. It is an old problem and not a serious one, but one that she has to keep an eye on. As a result, she played her last few matches with taping on the ailing area.

By the time Swiatek was a set and break up, Kenin called for the trainer. She told the masked medic that she couldn’t move because the muscle was so tight and, so, off she went to have the leg retaped.

Sofia Kenin of the USA gets medical assistance as she plays Iga Swiatek of Poland.

Many players would have sat in their chair and stewed over the situation: “I’m leading in my first grand slam final. She is injured. I could win this. I don’t want to lose this.” But not the remarkably calm Swiatek.

During the delay, Swiatek got stuck into some serving practice. Admittedly, she had to be told by the umpire that she could not use the match balls (one of the few moments she looked like a rookie on Court Phillipe Chatrier) but once she had been furnished with some older balls, she got to work. Then she went through her footwork on the baseline: run, slide, shadow forehand; run slide, shadow backhand. This young champion-to-be was behaving like a seasoned winner.

When Kenin came back, she was allowed just three more points. The American could not move out to her backhand and Swiatek made the most of it. When the teenager wrapped up the championship point with a forehand, as her hero Rafa might do, only then did she seem falter.

She put her hand over her mouth and looked towards her team: she was stunned. She sank to her haunches and rested her head on her racket. Then she remembered that she had to racket-tapping thing at the net so sprang up and did the tappy-tappy with Kenin. And then she bounced around the court for a few moments in utter delight.

Iga Swiatek reacts after winning against Sofia Kenin.

Being a well brought up 19-year-old, she asked the umpire’s permission to go and celebrate with her team and her family. The response from the chair was along the lines of: “Off you go, you muppet; you can do what you want. You’re the Roland Garros champion. Enjoy.” And off she went, although she did get slightly lost on the way, but once she found her gang, she hugged everyone in sight.

Only when it came to the speeches and interviews did Swiatek look utterly lost. Marion Bartoli asked a few on-court questions and got some stuttering replies before Swiatek admitted defeat. “I’m sorry,” she said. “it’s just hard to get my thoughts together.”

Even during the presentation ceremony (a fabulous affair that began with two beautifully turned out – and very small – ball kids offering Bernard Giudicelli, the vertically challenged FFT president, and Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion wearing seriously high heels, hand sanitising lotion which they duly used), Swiatek was slightly wrongfooted. Wearing a mask, she took the trophy from Pierce, hoisted it aloft and then dropped the mask to kiss her first – there will be more – grand slam trophy. Then she didn’t know what to do with it (it is damned heavy, that trophy) as they thrust another microphone into her hand for yet another speech. Pierce advised; Swiatek was confused.

Mary Pierce, Sofia Kenin, Iga Swiatek and Bernard Giudicelli.

But all of that faffage at the end of the match mattered nowt. When she is on court with a racket in her hand, Swiatek has shown herself to be a woman capable of winning many, many more titles. And that is all that counts.

According to Kenin, Swiatek “served really well. She dictated really well with her forehand. Especially in the first set. She played some great tennis. She’s got the really good forehand, the spinny forehand up the line. Really good backhand down the line.”

According to Mats Wilander, commentating for Eurosport, Swiatek is Rafa-esque: “Once she gets control of the rally with her forehand, you just can’t get out of the grip. It feels like I’m watching Rafa Nadal!

 “We know she is a great clay court player with the style of game she has. The next question is how, on the faster courts and the grass courts, does her top spin work? And what can the other women do to her, can they take time away from Swiatek? It doesn’t look like it at the moment.”

“I think she’s surprised by how difficult her opponents find it to play against her because of all that spin and how much she can be in control of points. Just unbelievable, completely free of nerves in her first grand slam final.”

Tim Henman agreed wholeheartedly.

“[Her mentality] is so strong when she is so young.” Tiger Tim enthused. “Those three elements: the physical, technical and mental are all so important and you see her game, you see her athletic ability but when you reflect on her mentality, how calm she’s been, her sense of belonging she’s had out on court – it’s been incredible all the way through. Then when you add it all up, 28 games she lost to win a grand slam in seven matches, so it’s just been a complete domination and she’s such a deserving champion.”

And Swiatek? Where does she go from here?

“I’m just proud of myself,” she said. “I’ve done a great job past two weeks. I wasn’t expecting to win this trophy. It’s obviously amazing for me.

“I’m only 19. I know my game isn’t developed perfectly. Also, I think the biggest change for me is going to be to be consistent. I think this is what women’s tennis is struggling with. That’s why we have so many new grand slam winners because we are not, like, as consistent as Rafa, Roger, and Novak.

Iga Swiatek of Poland reacts after winning against Sofia Kenin.

“That’s why my goal is going to be to be consistent”

She wants to be the WTA’s Rafa and with her team behind her and her feet planted firmly on the ground, the newly crowned grand slam champion, Iga Swiatek, is on her way. Women’s tennis, you have been warned.