Swiatek: Achieving The Extraordinary By Winning Roland Garros

Iga Swiatek (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

In the period of one Paris fortnight, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek went from being unseeded at Roland Garros to cracking the Top 20 after her remarkable French Open victory Saturday.

During the short span of one hour and 24 minutes, on a partly-cloudy autumn afternoon in front of about 1,000 spectators who cozied up near the red clay surface inside Court Philippe-Chatrier, Swiatek won her first Grand Slam crown – and first WTA tour-level title – as if she were, in the words of one very respected American tennis journalist, “winning a futures event in rural France.

“No sets dropped. No drama. Just brilliant, pressure-proof tennis.”

It was young rising star – Sofia Kenin, 21, of the United States and winner of last winter’s Australian Open – versus younger rising star – the 54th-ranked Swiatek from Poland. What happened in Paris – and witnessed by a worldwide TV audience in the millions – was extraordinary. Swiatek won 6-4, 6-1, in back of 25 winners and six service breaks while limiting Kenin to just 10 winners while committing 23 unforced errors. There was no problem too big for Swiatek to not be able to solve. She won 21 of the last 24 points and the final six games of the match. Her victory was in a sense like Polish perfection.

Swiatek became the first Grand Slam singles champion from Poland after she won seven matches over two weeks without dropping a set. After securing championship point with a forehand winner, Swiatek held her hand over her mouth – overwhelmed by the moment –  then, did a deep-knee bend using her tennis racquet to balance herself. She bowed her hatted head and lifted her left palm as if to ask “Why me?” After tapping her racquet with the fallen World No. 6 and fourth-seeded Kenin, she returned to the court to salute the crowd, skipping about the terre battue feeling groovy. Soon, she climbed a flight of stairs and hugged every one in her team. She embraced the moment.

There’s so much to like about Swiatek (pronounced Shvee-ON-tek). Perhaps, it’s her sense of innocence that sets her apart from others. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she expressed during her brief on-court interview with French TV, with a hint of laughter in her voice. “I’m so happy. I’m just overwhelmed.”

When one considers that in a matter of a few short months, Swiatek has gone from receiving her high school diploma to winning Roland Garros, it’s been a pretty remarkable time in this young Polish teen’s life.

Later, after Swiatek came off the court following the trophy ceremony, in which she lifted the coveted Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, the newest champion sat with the trophy by her side for one last videoconference with the media. She was asked what it meant to her to be the first Grand Slam winner from Poland. Swiatek answered: “Well, I’m just proud of myself. I’ve done a great job [the] past two weeks. I wasn’t expecting to win this trophy. It’s obviously amazing for me. It’s, like, [a] life-changing experience.”

It was then that Swiatek gave props to another pretty good Polish women’s tennis star, Aga Radwanska, who before establishing herself on the WTA Tour, won the 2006 French Open junior girls’ title and later was a 2012 Wimbledon finalist – the first Polish player to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.

“Yeah, I just feel like I kind of made history. But I still think Radwanska, she achieved, like, a lot because she played on the top level of [the] WTA for, I don’t know, 12 years. … I know there’s going to be a lot of people who is going to compare us. But I think I have to be really consistent for the next couple [of] years to everybody to name me like the best player in Poland because still I have a lot to do. Still, I think that’s kind of her place, you know?”

Swiatek said she’s looking forward to returning home to Poland – even though she knows “it’s going to be crazy.

“I think I’m going to, like, get used to that, it’s not going to be a problem for me. I didn’t have problem with, like, getting attention, with people surrounding me. I think it’s going to be okay for me,” she said.

“I really appreciate all the support I got during whole two weeks. Even though I wasn’t on my phone and I wasn’t answering, like, every person, I know that the whole country was behind me and they all believed in me. I’m going to be happy, and, like, proud.”

Nadal has been nearly unstoppable on clay. Can Djokovic stop him?

The 56th installment of the Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic series takes place Sunday in the French Open men’s singles final on Court Philippe-Chatrier – 3 o’clock sharp. Be there or … you just might miss out on a bit of tennis history being made between Nadal, 34 and Djokovic, 33 – who comprise two-thirds of the “Big Three” of men’s tennis.

World No. 1 and top seed Djokovic and 12-time Roland Garros champion Nadal, ranked No. 2, will meet for the 16th time in a major and third time in a French Open final. Nadal leads 9-6 in their Grand Slam head-to-head while Djokovic is ahead 29-26 in overall meetings – but has beaten Nadal in their last three Grand Slam matches. This is Djokovic’s fifth Roland Garros final – he won it in 2016 – while Nadal is 12-0 in Roland Garros finals. Nadal leads by 17-7 on clay and he’s 6-1 lifetime against Djokovic at Roland Garros.

In addition, Nadal is 99-2 at the French Open since his 2005 debut. One of his two blemishes came against Djokovic in straight sets in the 2015 quarterfinals, the other against Robin Söderling in the fourth round of 2009.

No two men have played more often during the Open Era. Unlike their other meetings, they’ve never played with a piece of Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record at stake. Federer won his 20th Grand Slam singles title at the 2018 Australian Open. Since then, Nadal has closed the gap by winning both the 2019 French Open and 2019 US Open. While he opted against defending the US Open title last month due to international travel concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, he’s ready to defend his Roland Garros championship.

Should Nadal win Sunday’s French Open title, not only would he extend his own Roland Garros record to 13 French Open titles but he would finally tie Federer’s 20 lifetime Grand Slam titles. If Djokovic wins, he moves one spot closer to Nadal’s 19 and Federer’s 20 with 18. This rivalry is part of their tennis legacy and what defines each as a great champion.

Both Nadal and Djokovic advanced to Sunday’s final with semifinal victories on Friday. Nadal beat No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman, whom he had lost to on clay in Rome, 6-3 6-3, 7-6 (0). Djokovic prevailed over No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1.

After Friday’s win against Schwartzman, Nadal said, “I made a step forward today and played my beast match of the tournament. I will need one on Sunday that is even better. …

“The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best.”

If Nadal beats Djokovic, it would be his 100th French Open victory.

Djokovic paid respect toward Nadal’s history at Roland Garros by saying: “It’s his ‘maison.’ I will have to be at my best. Playing Nadal at Roland Garros is the biggest challenge in our sport.

“He’s Rafa, he’s in the finals and we’re playing on clay.”

Enough said.

Ted Robinson: Emergence of a new wave of players

Tennis Channel commentator Ted Robinson has enjoyed an eye-witness view of the French Open fortnight, broadcasting men’s and women’s matches daily from his vantage point overlooking Court Philippe-Chatrier. He also broadcast last month’s US Open in New York. Tennis TourTalk caught up with the veteran American broadcaster on the eve of this weekend’s Roland Garros finals.

“Being on the ground for both the US Open and Roland Garros, the overwhelming sentiment is gratitude to the USTA and FFT for the efforts needed to conduct their championships,” Robinson said. “They gave us great tennis to watch, in environments where I felt safe, within local government protocols.

“My sense has grown that the majority of players agree. They were treated to a ‘theme park’ aura at the National Tennis Center – and Roland Garros had full doubles draws and qualifying.

“Just look at how Martina Trevisan, Nadia Podoroska and Daniel Altmaier changed their careers for the better in Paris.”

Robinson is impressed by what he termed “the emergence of a new wave” of tennis players. “Jen Brady took a step into the top echelon with her run in New York,” he said. “Although their final wasn’t of memorable quality, both (Dominic) Thiem and (Alexander) Zverev had career bests.

“The aforementioned qualifiers were Paris standouts, as Lorenzo Musetti should have been – a shame he wasn’t in the qualifying.

“And while (Sofia) Kenin is validating her Australia title, (Iga) Swiatek is the brightest new star born on the red clay. She is equal parts great game and poise.”

Passer des coups

Dominic Stephan Stricker was a double winner – capturing titles in both junior boys’ singles and doubles – on Saturday. First the 18-year-old Stricker, who was seeded seventh, defeated No. 8 seed Leandro Riedi, 6-2, 6-4, in 61 minutes in an all-Swiss junior boys’ final. Stricker won 70 percent of his first-serve points, broke Riedi five times, and outpointed his opponent 66-50. Stricker became the first French Open junior boys’ champion from Switzerland since Stan Wawrinka won the title in 2003. He’s also the eighth player from Switzerland to win a major junior title, and the first since Rebeka Masarova won the junior girls’ singles title in 2017.

Then, later in the afternoon, Stricker won the boys’ doubles crown with Flavio Cobolli of Italy. They defeated the No. 8 seeds from Brazil, Natan Rodrigues and Bruno Oliveira, 6-2, 6-4.

“It was an unbelievable day,” said Stricker, quoted by the Roland Garros website. He became the first player to win both boys’ titles at Roland Garros since Guillermo Perez Roldan in 1986. “I cannot really describe what just happened today. But I think it’s going to help me for sure for the future. I want to keep going.”

The last player to win the junior double at any junior Grand Slam was Wu Yibing at the 2017 US Open.

• France’s Elsa Jacquemot, 17, defeated Alina Charaeva of Russia,4-6, 6-4, 6-2, to win the junior girls’ singles title. She’s the first French player to win the girls’ crown since Kristina Mladenovic in 2009 and the first homegrown major champion in Paris since Geoffrey Blancaneaux won the boys’ singles title in 2016.

“There are so many emotions,” said the third-seeded Jacquemot, from Lyon, during the trophy ceremony. “Winning Roland … for a Frenchwoman, I just don’t have any words right now. It is incredible. I am super-satisfied with the past week. 

“I am savoring the moment. All the players who played in this tournament wanted to win it. That’s great. I am very happy. I knew it would help me in the future to win it. The road is long. The road is long, I know that and I will continue to work.”

Eleonaora Alvisi and Lisa Pigato, both from Italy, won the junior girls’ doubles title with a 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over No. 5 seeds Maria Bondarenko and Diana Shnaider, both of Russia.

Alfie Hewett of Great Britain defeated Joachim Gerard of Belgium, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, to win the men’s wheelchair final. It’s his second Roland Garros title. Gerard had advanced to the final with an upset of US Open champion and No. 1 seed Shingo Kunieda in the semifinals, while Hewett, who shared the men’s wheelchair doubles title with Gordon Reid, advanced with a win over No. 2 seed Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina.

“Yeah, still quite emotional. Haven’t really let it out yet. I can’t believe I actually won it,” said Hewett, quoted by the Roland Garros website. “I don’t know how I’m sitting here victorious, to be honest.” 

• No. 1 seed Dylan Alcott of Australia won his second straight Roland Garros quad wheelchair men’s singles title after beating No. 2 seed Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain, 6-2, 6-2.

“It’s been obviously such a crazy year,” Alcott, an 11-time Grand Slam champion, told the Roland Garros website. “For Roland Garros to even get up is pretty awesome, let alone wheelchair tennis, put on the main court today for the first time.” The final was held on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. “As soon as I saw that, I had a spring in my step, to be honest. I like a big, big occasion. I stuffed up the US Open, lost in the final. I think winning today made the trip worthwhile. I’m really proud of how I played.”

• No. 1 seeds Diede De Groot and Aniek Van Koot, both of the Netherlands, won the women’s wheelchair doubles title. They defeated the No. 2 seeds Yui Kamiji of Japan and Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 10-8.

What they’re saying

Novak Djokovic, when asked if there’s maybe more at stake this time when he faces Rafael Nadal in the men’s singles final on Sunday: “Finals of [a] Grand Slam is always huge. This is what. You work for all year long, every season hoping that you can put yourself in a position to fight for Grand Slam trophies. … I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I understand what needs to be done and how I need to prepare myself. I’m looking forward to it.”

Now it can be told 

Iga Swiatek was asked during her video conference after winning Saturday’s French Open title what it felt like being a part of a new wave of younger Grand Slam champions. She said: “For sure, it’s inspiring. I know that there are no limits. Even though you’re really young and you’re an underdog, you can do a lot in a sport like tennis. 

“Well on one hand, it’s pretty inspiring Sometimes, I caught myself visualizing that I’m also winning a Grand Slam. But on the other hand, it was also like, really far way. Right now when I’m here and I’m a Grand Slam champion, it’s crazy.”

What they’re sharing on social media