Saturday, October 10, 2020

No seed? No problem: Iga Swiatek blows the competition away in Paris

Today, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek made tennis history by becoming the first Polish person to win a major. That alone would have been enough, but she did it without dropping a set, and she gave up only 28 games on her way to holding the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. Swiatek's dramatic French Open run also occurred in cold, damp conditions--the sort that send many big-name players to the exit gates. 

Like her very talented peer, Bianca Andreescu, Swiatek entered the tournament filled with carefully developed confidence, and that confidence didn't melt away as the potential for a very big ending closed in. One of the reasons it didn't melt away was that the new champion travels with Daria Abramowicz, a sports psychologist.

"She just made me smarter," Swiatek says of Abramowicz. "I know more about sports and I know more about psychology and I can understand my own feelings and I can say them out loud." The Polish teenager has always worked with a sports psychologist, but settled with Abramowicz two years ago. And, unlike other sports psychologists, Abramowicz incorporates psychotherapy into her work with athletes (As a former mental health professional, I applaud this tactic with enthusiasm.)

Again, not unlike Andreescu (who was playing in her very first U.S. Open when she won it), Swiatek was playing in only her second Roland Garros main draw. And like Alona Ostapenko in 2017, she did it without being seeded, and without ever having won a tour tournament.

Having buzzed through the competition with apparent--and utterly stunning--ease, she had to face Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the final. Kenin's greatest strength may be her mental toughness; she has an uncanny ability to forget bad points and letdowns, and just go right on to the next point or shot.

It should have been a tense, probably three-set match. The first set was competitive, with Swiatek taking a quick 3-0 lead, and then seeing it wiped out by Kenin. However, Swiatek was able to grab a late break and finish the set 6-4. In the second set, Kenin's movement wasn't the same as it had been, and--deep into the set--she took a medical timeout for her leg. She won only one game in that set, as the relentless young Polish star--after an hour and 24 minutes--put an end to Kenin's run. 

Swiatek did everything better than her opponent. Her serving, her net play, and her ability to convert break opportunities were superior, and her athleticism was on grand display as she slid expertly across the clay to reach balls.

Swiatek hit 25 winners and made 17 unforced errors in the final. Her consistency throughout seven matches, her brutal upset of top seed Simona Halep, and the efficiency of her monster forehand sent a scary message to the entire field. 

Tennis world--meet Iga. (Consider yourselves warned.)

In wheelchair tennis news, newcomer Momoko Ohtani's run was stopped by 2nd seed Yui Kamiji, who defeated Ohtani 6-2, 6-1 in the final. Kamiji and her partner, Jordanne Whiley (seeded 2nd) were defeated in a doubles final thriller by top seeds and defending champions Diede De Groot and Aniek Van Koot (7-6, 3-6, 10-8). 

17-year-old Elsa Jacquemot of France, seeded 3rd, won the junior singles championship by defeating Alina Charaeva of Russia 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. The Italian team of Eleonora Alvisi and Lisa Pigato won the junior doubles title when they defeated the Russian team of Maria Bondarenko and Diana Shnaider 7-6, 6-4 in the final.

Tomorrow, 2nd seeds Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic will compete for the championship against 14th seeds Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk. Babos and Mladenovic are the defending champions.

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