Pole Star: Iga Swiatek survives scare, becomes first woman to defend French Open title in 16 years

Muchova, the unheralded Czech, was just five points away from the title before Swiatek made a comeback for the ages to win third title in four years at Roland Garros

An hour into the French Open final on Saturday, Iga Swiatek was doing to Karolina Muchova what she had done to so many before her in Paris. Up 6-2, 3-0, the Pole looked on course to cruise to another Roland Garros title and run away with the contest.

And then, just as nerves began creeping in for the Pole, Muchova turned things around. The final was billed as a clash of contrasts that could test Swiatek, who had not lost a set all fortnight up until then. But as much as her laser-like first serve and forehand, as well as a varied arsenal of shots, could have tested the World No. 1, her repeated tendency to rush and make unforced errors were playing into her opponent’s hands.

Once Muchova settled in, she counteracted all of Swiatek’s penetrating groundstrokes with a variety of net approaches, drop shots, and deep slices. This was Swiatek’s power and dominance from the baseline being trumped by Muchova’s gutsy, crafty guile.

The 26-year-old from the Czech Republic, ranked 43 in the world but heading into the final after beating tournament favourite Aryna Sabalenka after saving a match point in the semifinal, turned things around with four games in a row, and a late flurry of breaks saw her successfully defending break points and seeing out the set.

Muchova opened the third set as the player with momentum, piled on the pressure and got the break of serve. Swiatek’s 6-2, 3-0 lead had turned into a 6-2, 5-7, 3-4* deficit. But then, in the second remarkable comeback of a truly remarkable final, the Pole found the composure and reserve to fight back.

Muchova, five points away from the title, tried attacking Swiatek’s backhand wing on serve, only to see massive returns with interest landing at her feet. Swiatek dialed in to overcome her opponent with the highest quality shot making under pressure, winning 12 of the last 15 points, and three games in a row, to come away with the title with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win.

Muchova deserves all the plaudits for making a match of this in the first place. That the World No. 43 in her first Major final gave Swiatek a harder match than she has faced in two years at the French Open shows how misleading her ranking is, and how dangerous her game is.

Swiatek, whose penchant for delivering decisive results once given the slightest of opportunities is among the best in this sport’s history, was made to dig very deep here. Her imposition from the baseline was countered by Muchova’s excellence at the net, her incredible return game was countered by Muchova’s first-serve consistency, and her rhythm constantly disrupted by Muchova’s strategic defensive strokes including lobs, and drop shots.

But the cream eventually rose to the top. The slow red clay of the French Open is Swiatek’s domain, where she had only lost twice in 30 prior outings, showing a level of dominance unseen in women’s singles in Paris since Justine Henin in the mid-2000s. Her dominant, suffocating shotmaking from the baseline towards the end was not only evidence of her mastery of the Parisian conditions, but also of why she is the best player on tour.

Great players raise their level when the stakes are highest. And there are very few that can compare to Swiatek – who has won each of her four Grand Slam finals – at the moment.

Victory gives Swiatek a third French Open title, making her the youngest player to do so since Monica Seles. She becomes the first player to defend her title in Paris since Henin, and the youngest since Seles.


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