PARIS -- One of the biggest underdogs in recent major finals history, Jasmine Paolini won two of the first three games Saturday against World No.1 Iga Swiatek.

The crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier buzzed with genuine amazement, but Swiatek adjusted her white cap, rolled back her shoulders and proceeded to break Paolini at love with a wicked backhand service return. Swiatek would win 10 straight games and finish the feisty Italian 6-2, 6-1 in 68 minutes.

Roland Garros: Scores | Draws

It was the third consecutive title at Roland Garros for the 23-year-old from Poland, matching the previous feats of Justine Henin and Monica Seles, and fourth in five years.

“I think to play you here,” Paolini said to Swiatek during the trophy presentation, “is the toughest challenge in the sport.”

The numbers are beyond mind-bending. Consider that Swiatek has now won:

  • 21 consecutive times at Roland Garros, matching Henin (2005-07) and Seles (1990-92). Swiatek joined Henin as the only Open Era player to win each of her first four finals at the French Open.
  • 35 of 37 career matches in Paris (.946). Only Margaret Court (20-1, .952) was better.
  • 19 straight matches on clay this year. In a span of 45 days, titles in Madrid, Rome and Paris, something only Serena Williams (2013) had accomplished.

Paolini won 13 points in those first three games -- and only 18 in the final 12. 

“Maybe I was going a little bit down with intensity,” the Italian said of that critical juncture, “and she was same level all the match. She keep the intensity all the game, all the balls, and all the points. It’s not easy to stay there.”

Tennis is about geography and geometry, and on red clay Swiatek is a master of both disciplines. Going into the final, 85 percent of her strikes came from inside the baseline, which means she consistently won the territorial battle of the court’s 2,106 square feet -- taking the ball earlier and taking time away from the player on the other side of the net. The unlikely angles she creates can sometimes be breathtaking. 

After Swiatek hit a ridiculous backhand crosscourt return for a winner, NBC analyst Mary Carillo merely sighed, “Oh, man.” This is the “state of emergency” that Swiatek’s relentless pressure brings to opponents, according to Carillo.

Swiatek’s trip through the draw had a familiar rhythm; she’s lost exactly three sets in her four title runs here. 

In 2022, Swiatek dropped one to Zheng Qinwen in the Round of 16. A year later, it was to Karolina Muchova in the final. This time, it was Naomi Osaka who took a set (6-1), in a second-round match that was the best of the tournament. Swiatek was down 5-2 in the third set and forced to save a match point -- she’s the 15th woman in the Open era to do that on her way to a major title.

Swiatek lost 17 games to Osaka -- and 20 combined against her other six opponents.

“It’s tough to stay at the top of the game for such a long time,” said Henin, a four-time winner here. “Iga, she has something special for this. I think she is really strong, and if she stays healthy, keeps the motivation, she can win a lot here.

“I think she can win more than I won, for sure.”

No woman won more titles at Roland Garros than Chris Evert -- seven. How many will Swiatek get?

“Hmm, good question,” Evert said.  “As far as saying, `Oh, I think she’ll win double digits’ I mean, you just don’t know who’s going to come along. Mirra Andreeva, Coco Gauff could improve. Now that she’s won four, I think she would pass my total.”

Among women, Swiatek is the youngest to win her fourth French Open -- Evert, Henin and Steffi Graf were all 25. It’s been 1,095 days since Swiatek lost at Roland Garros -- to Maria Sakkari in the 2021 quarterfinals.

And while it is wildly unfair to compare Swiatek to her confessed idol, Rafael Nadal -- whose 14 French Open crowns are the most of anyone at a single Grand Slam -- at this stage of her career, it’s more than valid.

Nadal won the title in his first four appearances, from 2005-08. He had just turned 22 when he won the fourth. Swiatek just won her fourth, less than two weeks after turning 23. Nadal won his fifth in 2010, just after his 24th birthday. If Swiatek were to win next year -- hardly an unrealistic thought -- she’d have five at the same age.

“We’ll see in 14 years if the journey is similar,” Swiatek said mid-tournament. “I would never expect anybody to compare me to Rafa because for me he’s above everybody, and he’s a total legend.

“But I’m proud of myself that I’m playing consistently here and that I’m mentioned in the same sentence as Rafa. That’s cool.”

As John McEnroe, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, noted during the NBC broadcast, “She’s trying to build a Nadal-like legacy. So far, so good.”

Eight weeks ago, Swiatek left her home in Raszyn, Poland for Billie Jean King Cup qualifying matches versus Switzerland. To be followed by Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome and Paris.

Looking at the calendar on her phone, Swiatek said to herself, “It looks crazy, how am I going to survive that?”

On Saturday, she answered that question.