The French Open, a rigorous test of skill and endurance, has drawn to a close. Champions were crowned, newcomers emerged and underdogs made a name for themselves.
What does it all mean? What lasting impressions were etched into the fabric of the sport? In an unpredictable world of tennis, we attempt to make sense of it all.
What did Iga Swiatek's ability to walk away as the champion in such a hard-fought battle during the French Open final demonstrate to you?
Alex Macpherson: It marked another step toward creating a versatile champion's legacy. The challenge for the game's greats isn't just about winning once, but showing they can do it again, in different places and on different surfaces -- and in different ways. Swiatek proved she could overwhelm quality opponents in one-sided title matches, but she had never previously dealt with being down a break in the third set of a Slam final, where she also lost a break lead in the second set. In fact, she had lost three of her previous four three-set finals. Faced with adversity and a surging Karolina Muchova, Swiatek rose to the occasion, showing she could fight as well as dominate.
Jason Juzwiak: The pressure of being a Grand Slam favorite is immense, particularly at Roland Garros, which has recently been a challenging venue for title defenses (the last woman before this year to win back-to-back in Paris was Justine Henin in 2007). Down a break twice in the final set, it seemed Swiatek might be the latest to crumble under the expectations. But the top seed demonstrated her ability to remain calm and focused at critical moments, especially in the last two games of the match, where she maintained her cool, even when facing a break point at 4-4. "Stressful moments and coming back, you know," Swiatek said after the final. "I'm pretty happy that I could be solid in those last few games and finish it."
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
- Champions Corner: A last-minute alliance the winning formula for Hsieh and Wang
- Champions Corner: How low-energy mode in pressure situations helped Swiatek to victory
Courtney Nguyen: For the foreseeable future, Roland Garros is Iga Swiatek’s to lose. Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but her back-to-back victories in Paris were each defined with distinct forms of pressure. Last year, she was the overwhelming favorite amid a historic win streak. This year, while playing her cards close to her chest, she was contending with injury doubts and the weight of other players eyeing her No.1 ranking. She still lost just one set. It's worth highlighting that besides her management of the third set in the final, she also had to save a set point in the semifinals to close out an 8-6 second-set tiebreak. The rumors of Swiatek’s competitive fragility have been greatly exaggerated.
Greg Garber: When genuinely tested in a final, she responded. Winning a lot of 6-0 sets in early rounds is one thing, but Swiatek demonstrated championship tenacity against Muchova. We saw this in last year's US Open semifinals, when she dropped the first set to Aryna Sabalenka and came back to win. Swiatek won her first seven sets in major finals, a colossal achievement on its own, before Muchova’s fierce response leveled things. The interesting thing? After the match, Swiatek -- after seeing Muchova beat Sabalenka in a three-set semifinal -- said she was surprised she won. This comment from her post-match press conference was telling: “I finished the entire clay-court swing so well, and I survived. I guess I'll never doubt my strength again, maybe because of that.”
There were a handful of players who don’t always grab the headlines as much as Swiatek who put together strong runs at Roland Garros. Who impressed you the most?
Macpherson: After Elina Svitolina's return from maternity leave in April, I noticed the level of her level was high -- but the wins weren't following suit. Yet, the week before Roland Garros, in Strasbourg, she won her 17th title and brought that winning form into Paris, making it to the quarterfinals. This eight-match winning streak, including a Top 10 win against Daria Kasatkina, pushed Svitolina from No.509 to No.73 within two tournaments. But what impressed me was not just her on-court game. Svitolina has consistently shown bravery and strength of character in standing up for her war-torn country in Ukraine. She donated all her prize money from Strasbourg to Ukrainian children, and in Paris, she eloquently spoke about the interconnection of sport and politics and reminded everyone to focus their attention on the victims of war.
Juzwiak: It was only two years ago that former junior prodigy Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached the Roland Garros final, her first at a Grand Slam event. But 2022 was a lost season, where she was consumed by injuries and played only three events. Returning to the tour at the start of this season after seven months off, Pavlyuchenkova’s climb back had been steady but not outstanding. She was under .500 for the year as she entered the French Open. But she rediscovered her magic on the terre battue, beating three seeded players from a set down in some of the longest, grittiest matches of the fortnight. Nearly back in the Top 100, Pavlyuchenkova, a seasoned competitor since she was 15 years old, will surely be hungry for even more wins in the second half of the year.
HISTORY MAKER 🇧🇷— wta (@WTA) June 12, 2023
Beatriz Haddad Maia becomes the first woman from Brazil to enter the world's Top 🔟! pic.twitter.com/K5KkgocuL4
Nguyen: Clay is far from Karolina Muchova’s best surface. Give her a fast court, and that’s where her racquet skills excel. But if clay is a showcase for the game’s grittiest competitors, Muchova’s run showed us she’s more than just an artist. She grew up idolizing Roger Federer, and like him, her fighting qualities were easy to underrate. She came back from 5-2 down in the third to upset Sabalenka, and she came within a handful of points from pulling off a comeback from 6-2, 3-0 down in the final.
Garber: It’s difficult to go with anyone but Beatriz Haddad Maia. She had never been past the second round at the French Open and got all the way to the semifinals. She pushed Swiatek to a second-set tiebreak, her first real stress test of the fortnight. She rose only four spots in the Hologic WTA Tour rankings, but that was enough to vault her into the Top 10 -- a lifetime achievement for most players.
Nearly every major event has its share of unforeseen storylines. What stands out to you?
Macpherson: Elina Avanesyan, a 20-year-old was a lucky loser, became the first player to make the second week of a Grand Slam since María José Gaidano 30 years ago at the 1993 US Open. Avanesyan, who had just one previous WTA quarterfinal to her name and only four total tour-level victories, made a career-best run where she knocked off the likes of No.12 seed Belinda Bencic and Clara Tauson, enabling her to break into the Top 100, at No.80. Avanesyan is now the third-highest ranked player born in 2002, ahead of Tauson, Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu.
Juzwiak: Muchova’s career record against Top 3 players heading into the final is still underdiscussed. Muchova came into the French Open with a 4-0 record against Top 3 players, including a win against then-No.3 Maria Sakkari in Paris last year. Even though it seemed like Muchova’s perfect record would end in the semifinals, she came back from 5-2 down in the third set to beat No.2 Aryna Sabalenka. Although No.1 Swiatek ultimately handed her a loss, Muchova proved no one is safe against her talented game, even -- especially? -- those with the highest rankings.
Nguyen: I’m a sucker for a heartwarming story full-circle moment. In Paris, that was Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. At 28 and ranked No.100, one of the tour’s heartiest veterans who struggled with the loneliness of tour life, finally makes her first Round of 16 at a Slam. And she does it at her favorite major, the one where she made a junior final and qualified for her first Slam main draw, surrounded by her friends and family. More about her journey here.
Garber: After a dreary few weeks in Rome, the weather in Paris was stunning. The wind, particularly on the reconfigured Court Philippe Chatrier, was troublesome, forcing players to constantly adjust. Oh, and watch out for 15-year-old Alina Korneeva. In the year’s first major, she defeated 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva in a three-hour-plus final to take the junior title, then backed it up in Paris. She’s played two junior Grand Slams -- and won them both.
It’s the time of year when the tour makes the harsh transition into the grass season. Which player who we haven’t talked a lot about do you expect to have a good amount of success?
Macpherson: Ons Jabeur has had a year marred by injuries, with knee surgery in February and a calf issue leading up to Roland Garros. Still, her run in Paris was positive given the context. I believe her best chance of winning a Slam is on the grass of Wimbledon, which rewards her finesse and improv skills even more than clay. Jabeur came within one match of the title last year, and she'll be entering this year's grass swing relatively fresh and rounding into form.
Juzwiak: Barbora Krejcikova's year has been a mix of highs and lows, but after a middling clay season and a first-round loss at Roland Garros, she's due for an upswing. With her mix of power and craft, she could have a big run on the grass. Krejcikova believes she should be regularly contending with Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina for the Slams, and I agree.
Nguyen: Not to sound like a broken record considering they played the Wimbledon final last year, but Jabeur and Rybakina look primed to continue their grass success. Jabeur’s run to the quarterfinals in Paris was a surprise given her injury concerns, but she should go into the grass season with confidence. Rybakina’s withdrawal from the French Open was a bummer, but assuming she’s recovered from her illness, she should be rested and ready.
Garber: When in doubt, go with Jelena Ostapenko. With everybody focused on last year’s finalists, Rybakina and Jabeur, along with the return of Aryna Sabalenka, our favorite Latvian will again sail into the second week. She made the fourth round a year ago and the slick grass at the All England Club is made for her aggressive mindset. Ostapenko won the French Open, but her best record at a major is the 15-7 she owns at Wimbledon.