(NPR) PARIS — Iga Swiatek is unbeaten since February and sure looks unbeatable at the moment, now a two-time champion at the French Open.
Coco Gauff, appearing in her first Grand Slam final at just 18, never stood much of a chance, like most opponents against Swiatek lately.
The top-ranked Swiatek beat Gauff 6-1, 6-3 in the final at Roland Garros on Saturday, adding to her 2020 trophy there and stretching her winning streak to 35 matches.
Swiatek’s unbeaten run equals one by Venus Williams in 2000 as the longest this century.
Swiatek has now won her past six tournaments and is 42-3 this season.
She has emerged as a dominant figure in tennis, with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams out of action for nearly a year and three-time major champ Ash Barty announcing in March she would retire at age 25 and relinquish the No. 1 ranking.
That allowed Swiatek to move up to the top of the WTA and she’s shown she is a deserving resident there. Her last loss came in February to 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Swiatek has a game that works on all surfaces, but her greatest triumphs so far have come on red clay.
On the warmest day of the tournament, the temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 Celsius), and while the forecast predicted thunderstorms, there were just a few puffs of white in the blue sky above Court Philippe Chartrier at the outset.
Gauff did not get off to the best of starts, a little bit of early jitters that would be understandable coming from any player in a debut on this stage.
The player on the other side of the net certainly had a lot to do with the way things went.
Swiatek broke serve right from the get-go, with plenty of help from Gauff, who put a forehand into the net, double-faulted — eliciting some sighs of “Awwwww” from a supportive crowd — dumped a forehand into the net, and pushed another forehand long.
When Gauff’s work-in-progress forehand betrayed her again, she got broken again to trail 3-0 after just 15 minutes of action. Soon enough, the score was 4-0 in Swiatek’s favor.
Not in all cases, of course, but often, the spectators at Roland Garros tend to offer their support to underdogs and to whichever player is trailing in a particular match. Both of which applied to Gauff. So there was a surfeit of shouts of “Allez, Coco!” There were repeated cries of her chant-ready, two-syllable first name. And one fan yelled out “Coco, you can do it!”
When Gauff got on the board by holding to 4-1, the applause and roar were suitable for the capture of a set, not simply one game.
As things appeared to be getting away from her, Gauff slapped her thigh or covered her eyes, shook her head or looked up toward her parents in the stands.
What she never did was waver or concede anything.
Gauff began the second set by breaking Swiatek for the only time, and then holding to go up 2-0. Might this now be a much closer contest? Might Gauff push Swiatek to a third set?
No. Swiatek quickly recalibrated and reasserted herself, breaking back for 2-all as Gauff’s propensity for miscues returned.
Swiatek is not just winning, but winning easily, already amassing 16 sets taken by a 6-0 score in 2022 — and it’s only early June.
The only Polish player to win a Grand Slam singles trophy, Swiatek does it with a mix of a topspin-laden heavy forehand — just like someone she admires greatly, 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who will face Casper Ruud in the men’s final Sunday — and an all-court game, filled with variety and an appreciation of setting up moves ahead of time during a point. Much like a chess player, which she is.
Swiatek’s got other attributes, too, such as strong footwork that allows her to play defense when required.
Also key to Swiatek’s presence, and swiftly burgeoning aura, is her calmness on court. She has traveled on tour with a sports psychologist, who was in Swiatek’s guest box on Saturday, and works on various elements of her professional and personal lives.
That includes an emphasis on maintaining focus and setting priorities, such as the determination that she is still too new at this whole business of attempting to win Grand Slam titles that she decided it was best not to attend the Champions League soccer final in Paris last weekend, something Nadal did do.