Iga Swiatek came into this year’s French Open with a title and her No.1 ranking to defend. On Saturday she left Paris with both intact.
What looked like a routine victory early for Swiatek was anything but a seamless ride to her latest title. Against unseeded Karolina Muchova, Swiatek won nine of the first 11 games before her unseeded opponent staged a remarkable comeback to push the match into a third set.
"Oh, my God, do you want to start that roller coaster?" Swiatek told reporters when asked to explain her emotions during the match.
It was a wild, rousing encounter that featured a dozen breaks of serve and, as it closed in on three hours, it was impossible to know who would win.
But in the end, after Muchova double-faulted on match point, Swiatek would hold on for the 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win late Saturday evening in Paris.
And so, Swiatek defended her title at Roland Garros, winning her third in four years and fourth major overall.
Even in victory, Swiatek was characteristically modest as she turned to address her player’s box.
“Sorry for being such a pain in the …” she said during the trophy presentation. “I’ll try to do better. I’m really happy that we can feel satisfied now and celebrate.
“I love being here. Basically, it’s my favorite place on tour.”
She turned 22 years old only 10 days ago, but her name is already associated with some of the game’s greats.
Swiatek joins Monica Seles and Naomi Osaka as the only women in the Open Era to win each of their first four Grand Slam finals and the youngest since Seles to win consecutive titles at the French Open. She’s also the youngest to win a fourth Grand Slam title since Serena Williams took the 2002 US Open.
Swiatek’s three Roland Garros crowns equal the lifetime achievements of Margaret Court, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Seles and Williams; only players named Evert, Graf and Henin have more. Only Court (95.5 percent) has a higher winning percentage at Roland Garros than Swiatek’s 93.3 percent -- in a single Grand Slam in the Open Era.
Swiatek will continue as the Hologic WTA Tour’s No.1 player. She’s now 28-2 at Roland Garros and 26-2 in Grand Slam matches since becoming No.1.
French Open finals reaction
- 'The final of her life': Media buzz on the Roland Garros championship
- 'I gave my everything on the court today': Muchova reflects on first Slam final
- Swiatek holds off Muchova to win French Open title; fourth major overall
- Amid high stakes, Swiatek found another way to win the French Open
"Last year for sure it was a confirmation for me that the first time wasn't a coincidence or something like that," Swiatek said. "This one, for sure, it was a little bit tougher in terms of injuries and the pressure, and also coming back to this tournament as a defending champion, I right now feel like it's a little bit different.
"I needed to really handle that."
Coming in, much was made of Muchova’s 5-0 record against Top 3 players. Her comeback against No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals showcased her fearlessness. But when she stepped on Court Philippe Chatrier to face No.1 Swiatek, it was the first appearance in a Grand Slam singles final for the Czech Republic player.
Ranked No.46, Muchova lost four straight points on her first service game with some loose play, and Swiatek raced out to a 3-0 lead. But with Swiatek serving at 3-1, Muchova settled in. She started hitting deep groundstrokes, which allowed her to come to net and finish points. In a game that ran more than nine minutes and with four deuces, Swiatek won Muchova’s only break-point opportunity with a big, lashing backhand.
Swiatek, up 4-1, forged another break point but Muchova escaped with some of the versatility she’s known for, opening up the court and stroking a pair of backhand winners. Serving at 2-5, Muchova lost all four points and the set.
With Swiatek up 3-0 again, the second set began to resemble the first. But this time, when Muchova crafted a second break opportunity, she converted it with a forehand winner down the line to get back on serve at 2-3.
Ultimately, up 6-5 and after a spectacular scrambling point -- the best of the match -- Muchova converted her third set point when Swiatek’s backhand service return was long.
The momentum continued, as Muchova broke Swiatek’s serve for the third straight time. But then, three games later, it was back on serve at 2-all. The decisive break came in the seventh game. A Swiatek double fault made it love-30, an exquisite drop shot 15-40 and then Muchova moved Swiatek all over the court and emerged with a 4-3 lead.
"In the third set I didn't want to have any regrets about the second," Swiatek said. "I just kind of looked forward, and I said to myself, 'Okay, you know what? I'm just going to give it all.' No thinking, no analyzing. Just play my game, use my intuition, and that really helped."
Swiatek broke back to level the match. And then survived another break point to go ahead 5-4. Ultimately, Muchova’s double fault, only her third of the match, was the difference.
"Since Stuttgart I haven't been home," Swiatek said. "So I'm happy that I finished the whole clay court swing so well, and that I kind of survived.
"I guess I'm never going to kind of doubt my strength again maybe because of that."