For most of Iga Swiatek’s life, the French Open has been dominated by one player. There is a statue of Rafael Nadal outside Court Philippe-Chatrier, the scene of all 14 of the Spaniard’s singles titles. It is a record that will surely never be surpassed or repeated in the sport, but it is a reminder of the levels of greatness that can be achieved.
But with Nadal absent from this year’s Roland Garros and set to retire in 2024, a new dynasty is rising in Paris. At 22, Swiatek is already a three-time French Open champion, her victory over Karolina Muchova extending her record in Grand Slam finals to four wins out of four. The world number 1 is the first woman to win back-to-back French Opens since Justine Henin won three in a row from 2005-07, and her three titles in four years mean she has rocketed up the winners’ lists – Chris Evert’s record seven titles at Roland Garros seems to be under threat.
“Before she came along, I didn’t think anyone could match the seven of me,” Evert, who won 18 overall individual titles, told Eurosport. “But I think she can.”
What separates Swiatek is his hunger, drive and focus, between every point, game and grand slam. Many talented players have won a major title at a young age in recent years, but it has been Swiatek who has managed to become the youngest player to win four Grand Slam titles since Serena Williams. It took Swiatek until the fourth final of hers to be pushed into new territory. Thanks to Muchova, who forced the world number 1 to experience the deciding set of a Grand Slam for the first time, but Swiatek responded by finding another level in key moments.
“So close but so far,” Muchova agreed. “That’s what happens when you play one of the best.”
However, even getting close to Swiatek was more than anyone had ever managed before. In her two previous French Open victories against Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff, Swiatek had won without losing more than five games in each match. Swiatek entered her third French Open final with the highest winning percentage at Roland Garros since Margaret Court, but many of those victories came when the Pole jumped through the gates early on and took the match before her opponent. her. they found the rhythm of it.
That also threatened to be the case against Muchova, but the Czech has returned from a lengthy injury break last season with newfound stamina and grit. The 26-year-old proved it in the semifinals against Aryna Sabalenka, saving a match point in the third, and against Swiatek she fought back from 3-0 down in the second set to reach the decider in what was a thrilling final. The momentum of the match changed when Muchova steadied herself and her aggressive shooting found accuracy.
It gave Swiatek a problem to solve, taking time away from her baseline defense and hard forehand, while Muchova also put her serve under considerable pressure. Swiatek suffered two serve double faults, with Muchova intervening on second serves. The Philippe-Chatrier crowd rose to support Muchoa as Swiatek turned to her box in frustration. It was something strange at Roland Garros, a new challenge to which Swiatek and her psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, had to react. Under pressure from third, it was a test for Swiatek in a way we hadn’t seen before.
The answer is why Swiatek is threatening to delete more records. Facing break points at 4-4 in the final set, Swiatek’s level rose. The 22-year-old played fearlessly, becoming even more aggressive and hitting closer to the lines. His serve can be a weakness, but the bigger the points, the bigger the risks and the higher the level when the ball was in play. If Muchova regrets an unexpected run to the French Open final, it’s that he held back and waited for Swiatek to make the mistake. Swiatek holding off those break points at 4-4 was the moment he won the match, even if he still had to break in the next game to win the championship.
It felt like a moment where a player unlocked a new tool and discovered the true extent of their powers. We knew that Swiatek had the game for clay. We knew that Swiatek already had the ruthless mentality to drive an opponent off the court. Now, she has the true courage of a champion to win this kind of back-and-forth contest on the biggest stage of a Grand Slam final.
A special relationship is being built with Paris and the French Open. Roland Garros could be beginning to see a new era of dominance.