Iga Swiatek is creating a new French Open dynasty

The world No 1 was pushed by Karolina Muchova in a thrilling Roland Garros final but prevailed in three sets to successfully defend her title

Jamie Braidwood
Sunday 11 June 2023 09:22 BST
Iga Swiatek lifts her third French Open title in four years
Iga Swiatek lifts her third French Open title in four years (Getty Images)

For the majority of Iga Swiatek’s life, the French Open has been dominated by one player. There is a statue of Rafael Nadal outside Court Philippe-Chatrier, the scene of the Spaniard’s 14 singles titles. It’s a record that will surely never be surpassed or repeated in the sport, but it’s a reminder of the levels of greatness that can be achieved.

But with Nadal absent from this year’s Roland Garros and set to bow out in 2024, a new dynasty is rising in Paris. At 22, Swiatek is already a three-time French Open champion, her victory over Karolina Muchova extending her record in grand slam finals to four wins out of four. The world No 1 is the first woman to win back-to-back French Opens since Justine Henin won three in a row between 2005 and 2007, and her three titles in four years means she has shot up the winner’s charts: Chris Evert’s record of seven titles at Roland Garros appears to be under threat.

“Before she came along I didn’t think that anybody could match me at seven,” Evert, who won 18 singles titles overall, said on Eurosport. “But I think she can.”

What separates Swiatek is her hunger, drive and focus, between every point, game and grand slam. Plenty of talented players have won a major title at a young age in recent years but it has been Swiatek who has managed to become the youngest player to win four grand slam titles since Serena Williams. It took until her fourth final for Swiatek to be pushed into new territory. Credit to Muchova, who forced the world No 1 to experience the deciding set of a grand slam for the first time, but Swiatek responded by finding another level in the key moments.

“So close but so far,” Muchova accepted. “That’s what happens when you play one of the best.”

Even getting close to Swiatek, though, was more than anyone had managed before. In her previous two French Open victories against Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff, Swiatek had won without dropping more than five games in either match. Swiatek came into her third French Open final with the highest win percentage at Roland Garros since Margaret Court, but so many of those victories had been when the Pole had jumped out of the gates from the start, racing away with the match before her opponent had found their rhythm.

That threatened to be the case against Muchova as well, but the Czech has returned from a lengthy injury lay-off last season with a new-found resilience and grit. The 26-year-old proved it in the semi-finals against Aryna Sabalenka, saving match point in the third, and against Swiatek battled from 3-0 down in the second set to lead into the decider in what was a thrilling final. The momentum of the match turned when Muchova steadied and her aggressive shot-making found accuracy.

It gave Swiatek a problem to solve, taking time away from her baseline defence and heavy forehand, while Muchova also put her serve under considerable pressure. Swiatek was broken twice on double faults, with Muchova stepping in on the second-serves. The Philippe-Chatrier crowd rose to support Muchova as Swiatek turned to her box in frustration. It was a rare sight at Roland Garros, a new challenge for Swiatek and her psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, to react to. Under the pressure of the third, it was a test of Swiatek in a way we hadn’t seen before.

Swiatek receives the trophy from Chris Evert, who said the 22-year-old could threaten her French Open record (Getty Images)

The response is the reason why Swiatek is threatening to cut down further records. Facing break points at 4-4 in the final set, Swiatek’s level increased. She played fearlessly, becoming even more aggressive and hitting closer to the lines. Her serve may be a weakness, but the bigger the points the bigger the risks, and the higher the level when the ball was in play. If Muchova comes away with one regret after an unexpected run to the French Open final, it’s that she held back and waited for Swiatek to make the mistake. Swiatek resisting those break points at 4-4 was the moment the match was won, even if she still had to break in the next game to win the championship.

It felt like a moment where a player unlocked a new tool, and discovered the true extent of their powers. We knew Swiatek had the game for clay. We knew Swiatek already had the ruthless mindset required to blast an opponent off the court. Now, she has the true grit of a champion to win this sort of a back-and-forth contest on the biggest stage of a grand slam final.

A special relationship with Paris and the French Open is building. Roland Garros could be starting to see a new era of dominance.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in