NEW YORK — In March, when Ashleigh Barty suddenly retired, Iga Swiatek was thrust into the No. 1 role — at age 20.
She won 37 consecutive matches, including the French Open. And now, after Saturday’s 6-2, 7-6(5) win over Ons Jabeur, Swiatek is the US Open champion.
Rather than being intimidated by that No. 1 ranking, Swiatek, it turns out, was pretty inspired.
“I had to stay calm and focus on the goals,” Swiatek said at the award ceremony. “It’s New York – it’s so loud, it’s so crazy.
“It’s really breathtaking for me. I’m really proud that I was able to handle it mentally.
Now 21, the age of a typical college junior, Swiatek has come the closest.
After dropping the opening set of a fourth-round match against Jule Niemeier, she rallied to win, finishing with a 6-0 success. She avoided a third set in the quarter-final against Jessica Pegula by winning a tie-break in icy fashion. Swiatek lost 4-2 in the third set to Aryna Sabalenka – and won the last four games of their semi-final.
Against Jabeur, it ended in a close tiebreaker in the second set – Swiatek’s first in a final. Trailing 5-4, Swiatek fired a forehand winner that hit the line. When Jabeur’s forehand sailed two points later, she had struck another deal.
Prior to this year, Swiatek was considered a stronger player on clay, but by winning three consecutive WTA 1000s on hard courts in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami, she changed that narrative. This title in New York highlights his versatility. She is only the third player in the past 15 years to win multiple majors in a season on different surfaces, joining Serena Williams and Justine Henin.
“At the start of the season, I realized maybe I could do well on WTA events,” Swiatek told reporters. “I also reached the semi-final of the Australian Open. But I was not sure if I was still at the level to win a Grand Slam, especially at the US Open where the surface is so fast.
“It’s something I didn’t expect for sure. It’s also like a confirmation for me that the sky is the limit. I’m proud, also a bit surprised, just happy that I was able to do this.
Swiatek has won his last 10 finals in straight sets. This, after losing his first, aged 17 and ranked No. 115, to Polona Hercog in Lugano, Switzerland. Going back to ITF events, Swiatek has won 17 of 18 career finals – that’s as close as it gets.
His last overall record in the four major tournaments this year: 21-2.
This is Swiatek’s seventh title of the year. She is the first woman to do so since Serena Williams in 2014 and the first No. 1 seed to win the title since Williams eight years ago.
To put this victory in context, consider that Swiatek is the youngest woman to win her third major title since Maria Sharapova (20) in 2008. Swiatek is only the ninth Open Era player to win her third major title. before turning 22. eight, his new peers at the top of tennis: Sharapova, Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Stefanie Graf and Chris Evert.
Moreover, the Roland Garros champion is the first player to win two major tournaments in a single season since Angelique Kerber in 2016.
“I generally think [Swiatek just plays] better at the right time, at the important points,” Jabeur told reporters. “She knows exactly what to do. I feel like she’s improved a lot since last year until the start of this year.”
During the first week, Swiatek sometimes seemed out of rhythm, in a bad mood. What changed?
“For sure the weather changed because it wasn’t so hot in the second part of the tournament. It was helpful. Sometimes we have a lot to think about on the court. Sometimes I wasn’t able to do it every time, so I made a lot of mistakes. Then I finally accepted that I was going to make these mistakes. It won’t be like on a slow surface where I can build a rally and then be really calm and just finish.
“It’s going to be more risk and less control, that’s for sure. So I accepted that. This is what allowed me to be more free.
It was the championship final that the final Grand Slam event of 2022 deserved, Ons versus Iga – a worthy battle between the three-letter stars of the sport.
Swiatek, the best returner in the game, is the only player this year to break his opponents’ serves more than half the time. In the first set against Jabeur, she scored three breaks in four games – she landed her 19 comebacks, an absurd 100%. Meanwhile, Swiatek put in 90% of his first serves (19 for 20), winning three of his four service games.
Serving the first game of the second set, Swiatek met his first two-legged match. His answer ? She painted the lines on both sides, which caused a furious fist pump. In the second game of the set, Swiatek broke Jabeur for the third consecutive time.
And then Swiatek’s level dropped and Jabeur broke her in the fifth game to get the serve back. Swiatek, naturally, came back to break Jabeur for the fifth time in seven games.
Back on serve at 4-all, Swiatek faced three break points and somehow held 5-4 on the way to the tiebreak.
The US Open, towards the end of a long year, with all its atmospheric conditions, could be the most difficult Grand Slam event to win. And in fact, given the impressive roster of opponents, this was statistically Swiatek’s toughest road to a major title; his average opponent’s rank was 47, down from 55 at Roland Garros this year and 78 for Roland Garros 2020.
On Monday, Swiatek and Jabeur will be respectively ranked n°1 and n°2. They have the most wins on the Hologic WTA Tour over the past two years and are also one-two in the Race to the WTA Finals rankings. The two players were playing their second Grand Final of the season.
But it was Swiatek who walked away with the biggest trophy and the most prolific purse.
After receiving the winner’s check for $2.6 million, Swiatek had the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd laughing when she said, “I’m so glad it’s not cash.”