Iga to dominate: Swiatek’s hunger overpowers the WTA, changes the game

Iga Swiatek had won almost 30 straight matches entering the 2022 Roland Garros tournament, but if she failed to win a major on her best surface, the brilliant spring on hardcourt and clay would have been viewed in a different light. Winning Miami and Stuttgart and Rome is undeniably great, but not translating that weekly tour success into major-tournament success would have left plenty of questions unanswered about Swiatek’s preparedness for the biggest moments of the tennis year, and therefore the defining proving-ground occasions of her improving career.

The discussion before Roland Garros began centered around this fundamental question: Would you bet on Iga Swiatek or the field? In playoff competitions which involve seven-game series, it’s so much easier for the favorite to win. It’s not a cakewalk, but over seven games, the better team generally emerges. It can lose two or three times and still prevail. In tennis’ single-elimination, instant-knockout format, one bad day is all it takes to crush a dream.

Was Iga Swiatek ready to elevate herself over the rest of the WTA Tour, or would the pressure of the moment get to her? It almost did against Qinwen Zheng in the fourth round, and to be fair, Zheng might have had a chance in that match had she not felt unwell in the second set after winning the first. Yet, Swiatek fought through that match and didn’t look back. She convincingly won her last three matches in Paris, losing no more than five games in any of them.

The extent to which Swiatek dominated the tour from March through May was replicated and carried forward in June. Swiatek not only won her second major title by beating Coco Gauff in Saturday’s final; she validated and confirmed her status as World No. 1 and a dominant player who is several notches ahead of everyone else.

This Poland Garros title was won on clay, but it cements Swiatek as a transcendent champion poised to flourish in the near future. Wimbledon might be its own unique challenge because of grass, but Swiatek very firmly owns control of clay and cement tournaments. No one will beat her when she’s at her best. Opponents will have to throw her off balance and get her out of rhythm in order to knock her off her perch.

Ash Barty authoritatively won the 2022 Australian Open. Iga Swiatek just as convincingly won the 2022 French Open. Barty isn’t around anymore, however, which highlights the point that while women’s tennis has created three luminously skilled multi-major champions in the past four years — Barty, Swiatek, and Naomi Osaka — their respective ascendancies to power have not led to championship showdowns involving any combination of them. They have all risen, but not at the same time.

With Barty retired and Osaka struggling, Swiatek and women’s tennis are both waiting to see if a prime rival will emerge for Iga.

Gauff might be that rival one day, but Saturday showed it’s not quite that time. Gauff, a teenager, is well ahead of schedule in her career, but her forehand still needs time to develop into a more robust and reliable shot. In a few years, Gauff could be ready to handle everything Swiatek has to offer, but not yet.

Swiatek has changed the game. Now we get to see who will rise to meet her challenge.

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