Iga Swiatek is the queen of clay again.
World number one Poland won the French Open women’s singles championship on Saturday, beating Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.
Muchova, whose smooth and athletic game has been one of the game’s best-kept secrets for years, struggled with errors early on but found her form and gave Svidek the final match of her career. It made her the top player in the world — and then some — for more than a year.
Sviatek defeated Muchova 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. When Muchova’s second serve fell into the net on Svidek’s first match point, Sviadek dropped her racket and brought it into her eyes as Muchova came around the net for a well-earned congratulatory hug.
Soon Svidek found herself on the field with her team for a celebration and a few quiet words with her sports psychologist, Daria Abramovich, who she began working with when she was a shaky teenager. Steely Champion.
Svitek is undefeated at Roland Garros since 2020. With Saturday’s win, she captured her third French Open singles title in four years. Since 2019, his record in matches going into the final is 28-2, which won’t rival Rafael Nadal’s 112-3 record, but could give him time. Swiatek turned 22 last week and has given some hints that he may be slowing down.
Aside from the occasional battle with her soul, she gets better every year, especially at the French Open, which she loves more than any other tournament.
For Muchova, the final was a remarkable comeback from a year ago when she sprained her ankle in the third round of singles at Roland Garros. The injury is the latest in a series of ailments that have long held her back from realizing the potential that the sport’s coaches, players and experts have seen in her over the years.
That loss knocked her out of the top 200 and forced her to play smaller tournaments to regain her position. She entered the tournament ranked 43rd in the world, although few believed there were 42 women better in tennis than Muchova.
But playing in a Grand Slam final for the first time is a challenge for any player, especially against the best players in the world. Switek competed in his first five tournaments. He won four of his first six sets without dropping a single game. After that he lost only seven games in his next two matches.
Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia made Svidek briefly uncomfortable in the semi-finals, pushing her around the court and into a second-set tiebreaker, but she came into the final with every reason to believe she would lift the trophy at the end of the day.
That belief was reinforced in the opening minutes of the match, as the fluidity and combination of power and finesse that Muchova plays on his best days was nowhere to be seen. She sprayed balls wide and long, hit easy shots into the middle of the net, and gave Svidek plenty of free points.
There is no clock that controls the length of a tennis match, but a large part of the game is about timing, that is, finding a way to make the opponent feel rushed so that she has no chance of catching the ball, when she finds it. How to give it all the time in the world. Svitek’s signature was more than a year away, and that’s exactly what it did for Muchova on Saturday.
Two years ago he was one of the most creative players in the world. His game featured squat backhands and forehands with six different spins. There was an artistry in everything, but she almost never succeeded.
Now Swiatek isn’t creating as many points as he is holding, going for winners at the first opportunity with his big, rolling forehand. Short point, she should think less.
She never eases her way into any competition. She tries to dominate from the beginning. When one point is over, she scrambles to start the next one, plowing through sets and matches like she just got tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, rushing to catch a train.
For Muchova to have a chance, she needs to control the clock by extending the points and find enough time to feel comfortable on the biggest stage of her career.
Sviatek took the lead seven minutes later after breaking Muchova’s serve for the first time. After an hour she led 6-2, 3-0 while Muchova struggled to find her feet.
And then she did. Shot by shot, point-by-point, game-by-game, she did. The strokes grew smoother and more precise, the dots expanded, and she glided through the scenes gracefully at moments almost as if she were dancing. A packed crowd of over 15,000 fans chanted his name and cheered him on.
Swiatek faltered, and as the match moved to two hours, it was tied at one set apiece. Two minutes later, Muchova broke Svitek’s serve for the third time to take her first lead of the day.
Both Muchova and Svitek haven’t played a competitive match since 2019, before they both established themselves at the top of the game. But they have practiced several times since then, and Sviatek raved about Muchova’s skills.
“Nice touch,” Switek said of his rival. “She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. She has a great technique.
It was all on Saturday in one of the biggest Grand Slam finals in recent memory, on one of the sport’s biggest stages. Svidek faltered as Muchova found her form, then fought back from service break downs twice in the deciding set to find the answers and shots she needed.
Sviatek has never lost a Grand Slam final and won all of those matches in straight sets. One of the few lingering questions is how she’ll respond when thrown into the crosshairs of a third set with everything on the line.
At first, it wasn’t good. She double-faulted to give Muchova another break of serve to start the final set, and it was over as Muchova took a 2-0 lead.
Longtime tennis commentator Mary Carrillo likes to divide players into two groups – those with fangs and those without, those who relish the chance to fight until the final ball rather than winning from the forehand. Who closes it.
Muchova showed her teeth in the semifinals and in her comeback on Saturday. Now it’s Switek’s turn. She won 12 of the next 14 points to turn the third set into a roller coaster, only to see Muchova bite back once again.
She charged forward behind deep balls that made Svidek run and finished points with a touch or a blast or a line-pasting swipe, holding her own serve and breaking Svidek for a 4-3 advantage. It lasted seven minutes, until an errant drop shot settled into the bottom of the net and Svidek heard her name called once more and to the beat of a bass drum.
“It was so close, so far, but that’s what happens when you play the best,” said Muchova, clutching the silver runner-up plate.
With Muchova staying in the match, Svitek aimed to get back on Muchova’s feet, nailing her targets and putting Muchova on her heels and in a quick hole. Muchova hits a forehand wide, double match point. Due to Muchova’s double fault, Svitek took her crown and was Queen of Clay for a year.
“I’m sorry it was so difficult,” he told his team during the awards ceremony.
Four Grand Slam finals. Four championship trophies. Number one in the world. Swiatek doesn’t look too hard.