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

hannahwilks in French Open 10 Oct 2020
Iga Swiatek with the French Open trophy (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

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.’