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Just 19, ranked 54th, Swiatek wins French Open for 1st Slam

Iga Swiatek had never won a tour-level tournament until now.
Credit: AP
Poland's Iga Swiatek kisses the trophy after winning the final match of the French Open tennis tournament.

PARIS, France — Minutes after suddenly becoming a Grand Slam champion at age 19, while ranked just 54th, Iga Swiatek held a microphone during the French Open trophy ceremony and was hesitant for pretty much the only time over the past two weeks.

“First of all, I'm not very good at speeches,” Swiatek began, haltingly, “so, sorry, because I won my last tournament like two years ago, and I really don't know who to thank.”

When she's got a racket in her hand, it's a whole different story. With the poise of a veteran and the shots of a champion, Swiatek wrapped up a dominating run at Roland Garros, grabbing the last six games to beat Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 in Saturday's final.

“Two years ago, I won a junior Grand Slam, and right now I’m here. It feels like such a short time,” Swiatek said, her voice cracking. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

Swiatek (pronounced shvee-ON'-tek) is the first Polish tennis player to win a major singles trophy and said, “I know it’s pretty crazy back home” — where one newspaper's front page was splashed with the headline “Poland Garros” ahead of the final.

When she smacked one last forehand winner to the corner to end things, Swiatek placed her right hand over her mouth then crouched, shaking her head.

Hard to believe? Maybe. This was, after all, only her seventh major tournament; she'd never been past the fourth round at one.

But the way she played these two weeks — with powerful groundstrokes sent to corners, the occasional drop shot, terrific returning and impressive court coverage — made this outcome less of a surprise.

Swiatek lost only 28 games across seven matches and is the first woman to triumph in Paris without ceding a set since Justine Henin in 2007. She also is the first teen to win the women's title there since Iva Majoli in 1997.

And Swiatek did it with victories over such opponents as 2018 champion Simona Halep and 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, both by scores of 6-1, 6-2.

So it made sense that Swiatek would be able to get past the fourth-seeded Kenin, even if the 21-year-old American was trying to claim her second major title of 2020 after winning the Australian Open.

“A great tournament," Kenin told Swiatek. "A great match.”

Kenin was 16-1 in Grand Slam matches this year. But she dealt with a leg issue in the second set and showed frustration by kicking her red-white-and-blue racket after lost points.

And then there was this: She ran into the composed Swiatek, who only recently completed her high school studies and listens to “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N' Roses before walking on court.

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“I was just mentally consistent,” said Swiatek, who travels with a sports psychologist and meditates during changeovers, breathing slowly with her eyes closed. “I felt like today was really stressful for me, so it was kind of hard.”

This weekend is the culmination of an unusual two weeks, to say the least. The tournament was postponed form May-June to September-October because of the coronavirus pandemic; the recently rising number of COVID-19 cases in France led the government to limit the number of spectators allowed on the grounds to 1,000 each day.

Some top women, including 2019 champion Ash Barty and three-time major champ Naomi Osaka didn’t enter the event; 23-time Slam winner Serena Williams withdrew before the second round with an injury.

The temperature was in the mid-50s (low teens Celsius), with a slight breeze, and the hundreds of fans scattered in Court Philippe Chatrier were mostly subdued — other than a group that would shout Swiatek’s first name, stretching it out over several seconds each time to sound like “Eeeeeeeeeee-gah.”

Swiatek began with a 3-0 run, taking 12 of the first 15 points, delivering four winners and zero unforced errors.

No one expected Kenin — self-described as “feisty” — to go quietly. She got on the board with a hold, then broke when Swiatek double-faulted, the first sign that the magnitude of the moment might be hitting her. Soon enough, it was 3-all.

But Swiatek is nothing if not resilient. She served for the set at 5-3, and got broken, but responded right away by stealing yet another one of Kenin's service games.

Credit: AP
Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates winning the final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Sofia Kenin of the U.S. in two sets, 6-4, 6-1, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Same thing happened to begin the second set: Kenin broke for a 1-0 edge, and Swiatek broke right back. She wouldn't lose another game on her way to her first tour-level title.

At the changeover at 2-1, Kenin left the court for a medical timeout, then returned with her left thigh wrapped.

While Kenin was gone, Swiatek stayed warm by pulling on a white jacket and hitting some serves, earning applause from spectators.

When play resumed, Swiatek needed only 12 more minutes to wrap up the victory, finishing with a 25-10 edge in winners.

All that was left was to hear the Polish anthem — never before played after a major singles final — ring out in the stadium, check out her shiny trophy and go through the speeches and interviews.

After speaking for a bit, Swiatek asked, “Should I say something else?”

She was told by the emcee that she could if she wanted.

“I have no idea,” Swiatek said. “Sorry.”

Better practice up, Iga. The tennis world expects to see more such speeches in the future.

___

AP Tennis Writer Fendrich reported from Washington; AP Sports Writer Pugmire reported from Paris.