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Iga Swiatek wins French Open, defeating Coco Gauff in women’s final

Iga Swiatek defeated Coco Gauff to win the French Open women's title. (Yoan Valat/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

PARIS — On the eve of her first Grand Slam final, 18-year-old Coco Gauff insisted that nerves wouldn’t be an issue, vowing to hit freely and compete as if she had nothing to lose in Saturday’s French Open championship.

That was more easily said than done against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, whose ruthless efficiency didn’t give Gauff a chance to find anything resembling comfort on the red clay of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Swiatek raced to a 6-1, 6-3 victory in 68 minutes to claim her second Grand Slam just days after turning 21. At the 2020 French Open, she was an unseeded 19-year-old who became a national heroine overnight as the first tennis player from Poland to win a major.

With her triumph Saturday, Swiatek extended her winning streak to 35 matches.

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In an on-court trophy ceremony tinged with tears on both players’ parts, Gauff congratulated Swiatek on her achievement and voiced hope that they would meet in future Grand Slam finals. “And maybe I can get a win on you one of these days,” Gauff said with a giggle, wiping her tear-streaked face.

Swiatek, after thanking her family and supporters, particularly those who waved Poland’s flag so proudly throughout the two-week tournament, spoke directly to Gauff as her own tears fell.

“I can see every month you are progressing, all the time,” Swiatek said. “When I was your age, [it] was my first year on tour, and I had no idea what I was doing! You will find it.”

Iga Swiatek from Poland defeated Coco Gauff from the U.S. in a 6-1, 6-3 victory to win her second French Open. (Video: FFT via AP)

Then she addressed the people of Ukraine.

“I want at the end to say something to Ukraine: To stay strong because the war is still there,” said Swiatek, who competes with a yellow and blue ribbon on her cap in solidarity with Ukraine, a neighbor of Poland.

Swiatek wanted this French Open title badly, she revealed afterward.

When she won it at 19, before a largely empty stadium at the height of the pandemic, it left her “confused” and feeling a bit “lucky,” she said.

On Saturday, a second French Open title represented validation — validation not only of her talent but her hard work and sacrifice, along with that of her traveling team, which includes a sports psychiatrist as well as the customary complement of coaches.

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“This time,” Swiatek said, “I felt I really did the work.”

For Gauff, reaching her first Grand Slam final — without conceding a set, no less — represented significant achievement as well.

She became the youngest Grand Slam finalist in women’s tennis since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004.

Moreover, she acknowledged, it helped ease the pressure she has carried these last years, since she won the 2018 French Open junior title at 14 and reached the fourth round of the main draw at Wimbledon in 2019, toppling Venus Williams in her opening match, at 15.

“Even when I was 15, 16, 17, I felt like so much pressure to make a final,” Gauff said. “Now that I made it, I feel like a relief a little bit.”

Finally, even though Saturday’s final was over quickly, Gauff said she viewed it as an important measuring stick of where she stands.

“I feel like throughout my career and even in juniors, the reason I had success so early is that I was able to see that level and then go back and practice and try to reach that level,” Gauff said. “Now that I have seen the level, this level of No. 1 and 35 matches, I know what I have to do.”

No player has beaten Swiatek since mid-February, when she was edged in a third-set tiebreaker by Jelena Ostapenko in a hard-court tournament in Dubai.

Over the past two weeks on Roland Garros’s red clay, her preferred surface, she has displayed the full range of what makes her so hard to beat.

From the outset of Saturday’s final, Swiatek flaunted the variety of her strokes, constructing points with a medley of topspin wallops, deft slices and crisp volleys.

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Fluid and fluent on clay, patterning her clay-court movement on that of her idol, 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, Swiatek covers the court extremely well. There simply aren’t many spots she can’t reach.

Moreover, she pounces on balls so quickly that she rushes opponents, denying them the extra split-second to set strategy and feel in command.

Gauff scattered the first few games with more unforced errors than is customary — a netted backhand and over-hit forehands.

Within minutes, Swiatek sped to a 4-0 lead, pouncing on every ball with great confidence, while Gauff’s forehand continued to let her down.

Her backhand was the trustier weapon, and Gauff drilled one down the line to claim her first game. It was surely a psychological boost but did little to rattle Swiatek, who closed the first set in 32 minutes.

“She does a good job of taking the pressure moments and really rising to the occasion,” Gauff said of Swiatek afterward. “I do that pretty well, too, but today she was just on another level.”

Gauff regrouped and got off to a strong start to open the second set, capitalizing on a wild Swiatek forehand to break serve in the first game.

If Gauff felt despair or doubt, there was no outward indication. She carried herself with confidence, with a focused and determined look in her eyes.

But Swiatek was too skilled, making Gauff pay for the slightest mistake.

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During the news conference roughly an hour after the match, Gauff explained that she was still fighting a battle against tears — not over losing, necessarily, but over the full range of emotions swirling inside her, both happy and sad.

“I try really hard not to cry on the court, and I knew whether I won or lost, I was,” she said. “I don’t know how to handle it.”

After coming off court, Gauff said she found herself consoling her tearful little brother, too, telling him, “It’s just a tennis match.’” Her trainer and parents had wept, too, but she felt sure it wasn’t because she lost. It was because they loved her.

“I think for them to see me so upset, I think that’s what hurt them the most,” Gauff said. “Tomorrow or even tonight, we’re going to play cards again, and we are going to laugh. And we are going to be fine.”

Liz Clarke

Read highlights from Saturday’s final below.