Mental coaches are nothing new in tennis. But to travel with one at such a young age, without having won so much as a single title on the WTA tour before this French Open, is noteworthy.
For Swiatek, it made a world of difference.
The teenager needed just 84 minutes Saturday in Paris to steamroll reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 6-4, 6-1, for her first Grand Slam title and the first WTA tour title of her career, giving Poland its first major tournament champion, male or female.
Swiatek won the French Open crown exactly as she played her other six matches at Roland Garros — with cracking groundstrokes placed with laser precision, a heavy topspin forehand and a sense of calm that belies her inexperience on tour.
When she finally sealed the match on a forehand winner, Swiatek covered her mouth in disbelief, then jogged off court, through the stands and up a flight of stairs to hug every member of her team. The longest was reserved for psychologist Daria Abramowicz.
“It's amazing what a proper mind-set can do,” Swiatek said.
The victory will vault the teenager from No. 54 to No. 17 and make her a feared presence in every Grand Slam she plays from now on. But this year, playing at Roland Garros for just the second time in her career, she embraced her unheralded status.
Swiatek (pronounced shvee-ON-tek) played with the freedom of an underdog throughout the two weeks, even when the stakes were unlike anything she had faced before. She bulldozed through the draw without losing more than five games in any of her 14 sets and became the first woman since Justin Henin in 2007 to win the French Open without dropping a set.
Swiatek played the neat, all-court game whether she was expected to lose or favored, as she was in her semifinal match Thursday.
“It’s pretty funny because after preseason and during the covid break I was playing so well on court I thought: ‘I actually might win a Grand Slam right now. . . . It’s such a big opportunity for underdogs,’ ” Swiatek said.
But after an up-and-down summer on American hard courts, Swiatek abandoned that style of thinking and reverted to keeping her expectations low.
She homed in on the most minute aspects of her game that she could control, such as hitting the ball cleanly and staying low during points. Before the final, she took inspiration from Stefanos Tsitsipas, who came back from two sets down to push Novak Djokovic to five sets in a men’s semifinal match Friday.
Facing match point in the third set, Tsitsipas muttered to himself, “Work, work, it takes work.” Swiatek took his words to heart.
“It was so crazy for me winning against Simona that I already thought about the tournament as, like, my lifetime achievement. Really, I had no expectations,” Swiatek said. “I knew it’s going to be tough in the final. I didn’t want to stress a lot about it, so I just told myself that I don’t care, and I tried to believe in that. . . . I’m focusing on the things I do right now because winning is just an effect of my work that I’m doing every minute.”
Swiatek grew up playing on clay and hardly took a misstep against the 21-year-old Kenin, who played with tape on her left thigh to address a reoccurring injury. Both players seemed tight at the start but Swiatek jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Kenin's forehand faltered again and again. The Floridian never quite got a foothold as Swiatek moved her around court, though she did save one set point in the ninth game with a searing cross court backhand return that took the racket out of Swiatek's hands.
No matter. Swiatek won four of the next five points on Kenin’s serve to take the first set. The second required just 31 minutes of work — but considerable mental fortitude.
Trailing 2-1 in the second set, Kenin took a lengthy medical timeout to tend to a left leg injury. Swiatek meditated for a bit, as she does during most changeovers, and stayed loose, hitting practice serves while her opponent was in the locker room. When play resumed, she took just over 20 minutes to finish out the match, any lingering sense of nerves from the beginning of the match long since evaporated.
“She dictated really well with her forehand,” Kenin said. “ … She’s got the really good forehand, the spinny forehand up the line.”
Swiatek is the first teenager to win the French Open title since Iva Majoli in 1997, but file the fresh winner away with the recent — and ever growing — wave of young, inexperienced female tennis players who nonetheless possess the self-belief to win Grand Slam tournaments. Swiatek is the ninth first-time winner in the past 14 major women’s finals.
In the past three years, women's tennis has seen five players win a Grand Slam without having made the quarterfinals at a major before their title run. The French Open was Swiatek's seventh career major tournament; she had never been past the fourth round before.
“It’s, like, inspiring,” Swiatek said. “I know that there are no limits. Even though you’re really young and you’re an underdog, you can do a lot in a sport like tennis.”