When Iga Swiatek wins tournaments, she does it in style. She blazed her way to her maiden Grand Slam at the French Open last year without dropping a set. In Adelaide earlier this year she repeated the trick to win her first title on hard courts. And at the Italian Open she only lost 13 points in the final as she served up a double-bagel against world No 10 Karolina Pliskova.
Swiatek, still only 19, now holds two of the three biggest women’s clay titles and is nailed-on as one of the favourites at Roland-Garros. Not only that, but the array of qualities and skills she showed in Rome underlined her status as one of the most exciting and talented clay players around.
The fact it wasn’t another Swiatek-swats-everyone-aside-without-dropping-a-set week somehow made her latest win more impressive.
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She swept to victory in exceptional fashion in Paris and Adelaide, but here she had fresh obstacles to overcome. In the last 16 she was close to going out of the tournament against Barbora Krejcikova as she faced two match points, but she saved both, the second fended off with a composed backhand winner behind her opponent. Then she had to play her quarter-final and semi-final on the same day due to rain delays, and came through both in straight sets. She subsequently produced one of the finest performances in any final in recent years as she thrashed Pliskova without dropping a game.
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"You can see her results on clay, they are great. It's not just like, luck," acknowledged Pliskova.
Returning to the French Open as champion will be another big test for Swiatek, but this was another big hurdle passed in her young career. And more lessons learnt along the way, most notably how to "win ugly".
"When I was younger - and still even one year ago - when I was playing bad, immediately in my mind I had this scenario, hey, you can't win when you're playing bad. But right now, when my level of game's a little bit better, even when I'm feeling bad, I know that I can win against players," Swiatek told WTA Insider.
Swiatek’s development on clay should be a scary prospect for the field in Paris. Even as a teenager she is showing signs that she is peaking at the right moments. She took extra time off after the Miami Open in late March, skipping the American clay events and Stuttgart, and opting instead to return in Madrid, where she won two matches before losing to world No 1 Ashleigh Barty. In Rome she wasn’t at her best early in the tournament but came to the fore at the weekend when it mattered most.
Like so many at the French Open last year, Pliskova was at a loss over what she could have differently to pose more of a challenge to Swiatek.
"I think she really made it extremely difficult for me to do any point and just to play anything from my game.
"No matter how fast I play, I think I had couple of good shots, and I think she can just redirect so well and she can play even faster, and especially on clay. Because she has so much spin, I think it's super tough to do something from it.
"I think especially today she had amazing placement of the ball. It was everything. Everything was super, like, deep and just like close to the lines. She was serving quite big. I mean, she has a good serve overall. I think overall she didn't really miss anything today…I thought just she was just having maybe a moment of her life."
It was perhaps the moment of her life in the moment of her life.
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The last six months have been sensational for Swiatek, who was far from a household name when she stormed through the field to win Roland-Garros, and is now into the top 10 in the world and is one of the most electrifying women’s players on tour. It must be a whirlwind experience, yet she has taken it all in her stride, despite the new-found challenges.
"There are some dramas, really, every few weeks, because there are many things that I've done for the first time since French Open," she said.
They include “learning how to deal with the business side of tennis", which she describes as "hard", and playing her first match as a Grand Slam champion earlier this year, which was "really, really hard".
"I was thinking in the back of my mind that, hey, there are so many people that trusted in me, I [have to] play well. That really destroyed me for a few days and also during my match."
But Swiatek has shown no signs of wavering. And even the prospect of being defending champion and one of the favourites in Paris doesn’t phase her.
"It's good to have problems like that, you know? I wouldn't change it."
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