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Iga Swiatek reigns at the French Open again, wins fifth Grand Slam

Iga Swiatek’s made clear that she is a big fan of the TV series “Friends.” She even got a chance to hit some tennis balls with actress Courteney Cox — who played Monica Geller on the show — shortly before the start of the French Open.

So on Saturday evening, a few hours after winning her fourth championship at Roland Garros and major trophy No. 5 overall, Swiatek was wearing custom-made white sneakers that her shoe sponsor stenciled with the words, “The One Where She Wins Her Fifth Grand Slam” in all capital letters, a nod to the names given to the sitcom’s episodes.

At the rate Swiatek is going, that celebratory flourish might need to be updated. And often. She only turned 23 a little more than a week ago, after all, and the way she is accumulating titles and overwhelming most opponents, particularly on clay, make it easy to assume there are more on the horizon.

“She’s the queen here,” said French Open tournament director Amelie Mauresmo, a former No. 1-ranked player who won two major titles.

Even before this latest triumph, capped by a 6-2, 6-1 win against Jasmine Paolini in Saturday’s final, Chris Evert was prepared to say that her women’s record of seven French Opens eventually will be surpassed by Swiatek, observing: “She just has all the ingredients to be a champion. She really does. She checks all the boxes — the intangibles and the tangibles.”

Asked if she agreed with that assessment, Paolini let out a hearty laugh and replied, “Definitely.”

Swiatek is far less likely to offer any such pronouncements.

“It’s nice to hear such words about myself. But, still, I’m not thinking in these categories, because even being here and winning five Slams seems pretty surreal. I would never expect it when I was younger,” said Swiatek, who is 35-2 over her career in Paris, including a current 21-match winning streak that made her the first woman with three straight titles there since Justine Henin in 2005-07.

“Getting to (double) digits here seems like still a long shot. So I’ll for sure work for it and you can expect that I’ll do my best to become a better and better player every year and to play my best tennis here,” Swiatek said. “Hearing this from Chrissie is really great, and I’m grateful for her and her words.”

In addition to winning four of the past five tournaments at Roland Garros, Swiatek collected the top prize at the 2022 U.S. Open. She’s been a semifinalist at the Australian Open and a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, where play begins on July 1.

Improving on grass is probably the next logical step in Swiatek’s development.

But rather than look too far ahead, let’s examine what’s happened in the first half of 2024.

Swiatek is now 43-4 with five titles this season, which means she’s won more than half of the events she’s entered, while reaching the semifinals at two others. At her past three tournaments, all on clay, she is 19-0, becoming the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win the Madrid Open, Italian Open and French Open back-to-back-to-back.

Her lead atop the WTA rankings is so massive that she would have remained at No. 1 next week even with a first-round loss in Paris.

“These numbers are not, let’s say, normal. (They) are something unbelievable,” Paolini said. “She’s an unbelievable player.”

What Swiatek does, Paolini explained, is stay right at the baseline and take balls early. She uses a lot of topspin. Her shots came back so much speedier than those of other women. And her defense can be frustrating.

Swiatek did have moments — if fleeting — when she faced a challenge over the past two weeks. In the second round, she needed to save a match point against four-time major champion Naomi Osaka. In the semifinals, Swiatek went down a break at 3-1 in the second set against 2023 U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff before taking five of the remaining six games. In the final, Swiatek got broken to trail 2-1, but then reeled off 10 straight games.

What’s it like trying to stop her once she gets going like that?

“It’s hard,” said Paolini, who will jump from No. 15 to No. 7 in the rankings after her first Slam final.

The question on plenty of other people’s minds is how many more of these matches Swiatek can win.

She is now 5-0 in title matches at majors and says she still feels pressure ahead of those biggest of moments. Including Saturday.

“It was an emotional win, because I felt a lot of stress yesterday and today in the morning. And I knew if I’m going to just focus on tennis, I can kind of fight through it, and at the end, it all went how I wanted,” Swiatek said. “So I just felt really proud of myself.”

Credit: AP

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