French Open champion Swiatek inspired by youth movement in women’s tennis: ‘I know that there are no limits’

Iga Swiatek became the WTA Tour’s latest young star to storm to a Grand Slam title at the French Open.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek defeated Sofia Kenin to claim her maiden major title at the French Open on Saturday, becoming the first player from her country to claim a Grand Slam title in singles.

Born 2001, Swiatek is the latest youthful player to break through and become a Grand Slam champion in a sport which has seen a plethora of them in recent years.

Swiatek follows in the footsteps of 1997-born Naomi Osaka, now a three-time Grand Slam champion who was cheering Swiatek on from home; Jelena Ostapenko, also born 1997, who was ranked world no. 47 and, like Swiatek, unseeded when she won the French Open in 2017; 2000-born Bianca Andreescu, who became the first player born in the 2000s to win a major when she claimed the US Open title in 2019; and Kenin herself, born 1998, who won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January 2020.

All of them won the first Grand Slam final in which they appeared.

 

The French Open final between Swiatek and Kenin was the youngest in combined age since Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic faced off in the Australian Open final in 2008. In contrast, the men’s final will be contested by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who have a combined age of 67.

Swiatek said it was ‘inspiring’ to have seen peers like Osaka, Andreescu and Kenin break through to become major champions.

‘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.’

This was particularly true in the last couple of months, with the global health crisis having a huge impact on the tennis season. An unprecedented six-month total shutdown and the cancellation of Wimbledon was followed by a US Open and French Open played with minimal opportunities for players to compete in the run-up to either tournament. Both tournaments also had several key players missing from their fields: At the US Open, the majority of the WTA’s European-based top-10 players as well as world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty and defending champion Bianca Andreescu did not compete. The French Open was missing defending champion Barty, US Open winner Osaka, Andreescu and Serena Williams, who withdrew from the tournament after her first-round match due to injury.

Swiatek celebrates winning the French Open (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

While the US Open was played under unusual ‘bubble’ conditions and without fans, it was still familiar conditions for the players. Not so the French Open, which was rescheduled from its usual May-June slot to the first two weeks of October. Temperatures have been cold, almost every day of the tournament has been impacted by rain and players have been appearing on court bundled up in leggings, long-sleeved tops and puffer jackets.

Still, there are no asterisks to be placed by Swiatek’s name on the list of French Open champions. The 19-year-old took out the 2019 French Open finalist, Marketa Vondrousova; former top-10 player Eugenie Bouchard and, most impressively, the 2018 champion and huge favourite for the title, Simona Halep, just to make the quarterfinals.

Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin with their trophies (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

Up against Kenin in the final, who had the experience of having beaten Garbine Muguruza in the Australian Open final in January, Swiatek impressed in a match which was very competitive for the first set and a half. She won 12 of the first 15 points as she raced to a 3-0 lead, and when she was broken when serving for the first set, bounced straight back to break and lead 6-4. She won six straight games to wrap up a 6-4, 6-1 victory as Kenin faded physically, struggling with a left leg injury for which she received a medical time-out.

‘She obviously played a really good match,’ Kenin said.

‘She’s really hot right now, playing some really great tennis. I’m not going to use this as an excuse, but my leg obviously was not the best. It’s obviously disappointing.’

Swiatek called lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen a ‘life-changing experience’ and said that the key to her victory was low expectations.

‘It was so crazy for me, winning against Simona that I already thought about the tournament as my lifetime achievement. Really, I had no expectations.

“I knew it’s going to be tough in the final. I didn’t want to stress a lot about it, so I just told myself that I don’t care and I tried to believe in that.’

Can Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin deny dazzling Iga Swiatek a maiden Grand Slam title and claim the French Open for herself?

Kenin vs Swiatek is live from Roland Garros on Saturday 10 October, 3pm local/2pm BST

The past decade has seen six women claim their maiden Grand Slam titles at the French Open, and with just 23 games dropped on the way to her first major final, Iga Swiatek could be poised to become the seventh.

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Sofia Kenin, however, has other ideas. The American defused Petra Kvitova’s game in the semifinal and has her sights set on a second major title in 2020 in Saturday’s Roland Garros final.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Kenin vs Swiatek live

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Kenin vs Swiatek: Head-to-head

This is the first match Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek have played as pros.

They did meet at the French Open in juniors, however – Swiatek won in two sets.

Kenin vs Swiatek: Preview

It won’t bother Sofia Kenin at all that Iga Swiatek hasn’t dropped a set so far at this French Open – after all, neither had Petra Kvitova before their semifinal encounter, and Kenin still disposed of the more experienced Czech neatly 6-4, 7-5.

Kenin doesn’t seem to get the respect she deserves, perhaps because there was so little time for her to consolidate the unexpected Australian Open title she won (although she did win a title in Lyon) before the sport was shut down. And people were so eager to slap a ‘Kenin in trouble!!!!!’ narrative on her after losing 0-6, 0-6 to Victoria Azarenka in Rome, as if Azarenka wasn’t in the form to be bagelling people left, right and centre.

But here she is in her second Grand Slam final in the space of a season, and she still isn’t really the biggest story in it. That billing is reserved for Poland’s Iga Swiatek, whose run to her maiden Grand Slam final – the first French Open final reached by a Polish woman – has been eye-poppingly good. Simona Halep, the tournament favourite, was made to look like just another hapless victim of Swiatek’s whirlwind forehand and dazzling net game; in the semifinals, Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska – a player coming into her own and one to look out for over the next few years – was in the match for almost a whole minute before Hurricane Iga blew her away.

Iga Swiatek (©Sebastien Muylaert/MAXPPP)

Will Swiatek be able to play like this in a Grand Slam final? It’s entirely possible; she hasn’t seemed bothered too much by the scale of the occasion up until this point, although she’s struggling big-time in the women’s doubles semifinal at the time of writing. The better question is: If she does play like she has been, can Kenin neutralise her the way the American did Kvitova?

Yes – and no. Kvitova did make a few too many forehand errors and failed to find her first serve at a few crucial moments. But there are a lot of things Kenin does well which make her a very tough opponent to beat. She defends brilliantly, yes – fundamentally a counterpuncher, she can get a lot of balls back and make rallies extremely long – but she also serves with a really high degree of precision, if not power, despite her somewhat odd-looking motion. Time and time again, her backhand return down the line put Kvitova on the back foot before the rally had even properly started, and she has been deploying a well-played forehand drop shot frequently and extremely smartly.

Kenin is a combination of feisty and cool-headed which makes her a magnificent competitor, and she is a particularly good front-runner. If Swiatek has any vulnerabilities on Saturday, and it’s hard to believe there won’t be some for the Pole in her first Grand Slam final, Kenin will expose them.

Kenin vs Swiatek: Prediction

A highly unexpected French Open semifinal sees Polish teenager Iga Swiatek taking on Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska.

Iga Swiatek vs Nadia Podoroska is live from Roland Garros on Thursday 8 October, 3pm local/2pm BST

Iga Swiatek, just 19 years old, blew the French Open wide open when she ousted top seed Simona Halep, while Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska played her way through qualifying and stunned Elina Svitolina to earn her place in the semifinals.

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In what is completely uncharted territory for both women, who can seize the chance to make their first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Swiatek vs Podoroska live

French Open matches including Iga Swiatek vs Nadia Podoroska are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Swiatek vs Podoroska: Head-to-head

This is the first meeting between Iga Swiatek and Nadia Podoroska.

Swiatek vs Podoroska: Preview

There were many theories and predictions about what we would see at the French Open, but I don’t think anybody envisioned this semifinal – or that the women’s tournament would be the coming-out party for Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

Only two years removed from winning junior Wimbledon, Swiatek shot up the rankings as soon as she turned pro and first came to most of our attention when she reached the round of 16 at Roland Garros last year, only to lose to Simona Halep 1-6, 0-6. Again, though, I’m not sure anybody anticipated that a bit more than 12 months later she would be back in the round of 16, well and truly turning the tables on Halep and going on to make the semifinals.

What was truly impressive about Swiatek is not just the way she defeated Halep, but the way she took the court for her next match, not reeling from the biggest win of her career, but taking it all in her stride. She trailed early against Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan, herself an incredible story, but after going down 1-3, swiftly figured out the buttons to press and won 11 of the next 12 games for a 6-3, 6-1 victory. Swiatek has not only lost a set, she has lost just 20 games in five matches.

How has she done it? Well – she’s pretty good. Swiatek’s spinny forehand is more effective and powerful than you might imagine, and she uses it to construct points, relying on her touch and net skills to end them – not a problem when they’re as good as hers are, and when she is reliably winning an excellent percentage of points behind her first serve. She has been able to hit so many more winners than unforced errors because she is rarely pulled out of position (again, this has a lot to do with great serving), and has unfailingly dictated the terms of her matches.

Nadia Podoroska (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

Will she be able to do the same thing against Podoroska? The Argentine qualifier, ranked outside the top 250 at the start of the year after a wrist injury derailed her rise up the rankings earlier in her career, is now 35-6 across all levels in 2020, and had beaten seven opponents to reach the quarterfinals, but based on the fact that she had never played a top-20 opponent, I thought she’d find herself out her depth against Svitolina.

Not so: It was the third seed, a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist, who floundered and looked completely lost as Podoroska pushed her around the court with her groundstrokes and showcased classic clay-court skills to finish the point. Svitolina was scathing about her own performance afterwards, and rightly so – she did not play at the level we would usually expect from her – but she was also given little opportunity to find her feet by Podoroska, who looked every inch a player who has racked up victory after victory in 2020.

How will things play out when Swiatek meets Podoroska? Well, Podoroska isn’t going to have things all her own way, not if Swiatek plays like she has been all tournament. A Grand Slam semifinal is a huge occasion, and a total unknown for both women, so there’s that dimension of uncertainty; but purely game-wise, Swiatek can meet Podoroska on her own terms when it comes to power, and she has so many ways to win points. A strong serving performance should see the Polish sensation into her first Grand Slam final.

Swiatek vs Podoroska: Prediction

A French Open quarterfinal nobody predicted sees Polish teenager Iga Swiatek facing off with Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan to see who can keep their dream run going.

Swiatek vs Trevisan is live from Roland Garros on Tuesday 6 October, 5pm local/4pm BST

Poland’s Iga Swiatek blew the French Open women’s draw wide open when she shocked Simona Halep in straight sets, and now has a huge opportunity to make her first Grand Slam semifinal at just 19.

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But qualifier Martina Trevisan is on a dazzling run of her own, having beaten Coco Gauff and Kiki Bertens among others to make her first major quarterfinal, and the Italian is playing the best tennis of her career. Who can seize this opportunity?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Swiatek vs Trevisan live

French Open matches including Iga Swiatek vs Martina Trevisan are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Swiatek vs Trevisan: Head-to-head

The head-to-head between Iga Swiatek and Martina Trevisan stands at 1-1. Trevisan won their first match on clay at the Warsaw $25k in 2017, in three sets; Swiatek won in straight sets when they played on grass in Birmingham in 2019.

Swiatek vs Trevisan: Preview

Two players who faced off before at an ITF $25k in Warsaw and in the first round of qualifying for Birmingham will now be taking each other on for a place in the semifinals of the French Open on Tuesday.

Clearly a big part of this equation is who’s going to handle the occasion better. Swiatek has been in the fourth round of a Grand Slam three times now, and the way that she performed against Simona Halep on Sunday showed how much she has learned and how much more comfortable she has become in these situations since her 0-6, 1-6 defeat to Halep in the same round last year.

Halep did not play badly at all, but Swiatek was on fire, hitting 30 winners against just 20 unforced errors and opening up Halep’s defense – some of the best in the world – like it was nothing. She created 14 break point chances on the Romanian’s serve while facing none herself and won eight of nine points at net. It took her just 69 minutes to wrap up an absolute demolition of the tournament’s top favourite.

It was one of those absolute golden days for a player when they can do no wrong – but it didn’t come out of nowhere for Swiatek, who has yet to drop a set at this year’s French Open despite facing some notoriously tricky opponents: Marketa Vondrousova, Su-Wei Hsieh, Eugenie Bouchard and then Halep. That suggests, despite how clearly emotional she was after the win over Halep, that she will be able to sustain her level heading further into the tournament.

Martina Trevisan (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

For Martina Trevisan, this is the first time in 11 attempts that she has qualified for a Grand Slam, let alone won any matches at it, so this is completely uncharted territory for her. The Italian has now won seven matches – three in qualifying, then main-draw wins over Camila Giorgi (by retirement), Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari and Kiki Bertens – and is clearly playing the finest tennis of her career. What was most noticeable in her victory over Bertens is how eager and willing she was to dictate points, striking more winners than the Dutch player and attacking the net at every opportunity.

Swiatek has a pretty good record against left-handers in her young career, and I would argue that of the two, she has the larger skillset and the sharper array of point-ending shots. Trevisan is playing absolutely brilliant tennis right now, the best of her life, and it’s a hard game to break down. This could be a long match.

Swiatek vs Trevisan: Prediction

Simona Halep dropped just one game when she faced Iga Swiatek at the same stage of the French Open in 2019 – can Swiatek do better this time around?

Halep vs Swiatek is live from Roland Garros on Sunday 4 October, 11am local/10am BST

Champion at Roland Garros in 2018, Simona Halep continues to look every inch the tournament favourite as she extended her winning streak to 17 matches, exacting revenge on Amanda Anisimova for a quarterfinal defeat at last year’s French Open by allowing the American teenager just a single game.

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In the round of 16 in 2019, it was Iga Swiatek who got just one game from Halep – now they meet again at the same stage. With 16 months’ worth of experience since that drubbing, will Swiatek do better in 2020?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Halep vs Swiatek live

French Open matches including Simona Halep vs Iga Swiatek are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Halep vs Swiatek: Head-to-head

Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek have only played once – at last year’s French Open, when Halep won 6-1, 6-0.

Halep vs Swiatek: Preview

For the second round in a row, Simona Halep faces a teenager – and a player she first took on at last year’s French Open. Against Amanda Anisimova, who had fairly blasted Halep, then the defending champion, off the court 6-2, 6-4 in the 2019 quarterfinals, Halep made it clear that she is in a very different place in 2020. The match was as close as it was ever going to get in the second game, when Halep, having already broken on an Anisimova double fault, faced five break points to consolidate. She did, and never looked back from there, winning 6-0, 6-1 in 56 minutes.

There are two sides to this story: One is that Anisimova has been looking a little lost all season, and was not playing anywhere as near as well as she did in 2019; the other is that Halep changed her tactics, approached the match in a completely different way, and stayed close to the baseline, playing aggressive, looking to crowd and outmaneouvre the tall American. It worked, and Halep continues to look the French Open favourite she’s been anointed: Energised, fit and seemingly relaxed and confident, not labouring under the burden of expectation which was on her shoulders as defending champion.

Iga Swiatek (AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

This is not great news for Iga Swiatek, who only got one game from Halep last year. But then, Swiatek was facing a top-10 player for the first time then, having her first deep run at a Grand Slam, ranked world no. 104 after a run to the WTA Lugano final. In the seven events she played in the remainder of 2019, she got wins over Caroline Wozniacki, Caroline Garcia; in January, she reached the last 16 of the Australian Open for the first time, beating Donna Vekic and very narrowly losing to Anett Kontaveit in a fantastic three-set battle; she made the third round of the US Open. So far at Roland Garros, she’s beaten 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, the very tricky Su-Wei Hsieh, and unleashed a storm of winners on former semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard.

Swiatek, still just 19 and only two years removed from winning the junior Wimbledon title, is a really talented young player but does she have it in her to beat Halep on Sunday? It’s not impossible. Swiatek’s strength is that she has a lot of ways to win points – she can unleash power when it’s required, but also has a devastating line in drop shots, will attack the net, has plenty of variety. I’m not sure, however, that her serve is stable enough, or that she has the tactical clarity, to beat a player who will smother her with depth from the baseline and who blends the ability to hit deep with the capacity to keep unforced errors down. I think it will be a lot closer than last year’s encounter – I can even see Swiatek taking a set – but Halep just seems so hard to beat right now.

Halep vs Swiatek: Prediction