PARIS — Iga Swiatek seemed suddenly lost in the French Open final. Your punches were wrong. Her confidence was gone. Her big early lead also dwindled.
She kept glancing at the stands and seeking advice from her coach and sports psychologist.
Until she was two games away from the defeat against the unseeded Karolina Muchova on Saturday, not much was going on. And then when she needed it most, Swiatek morphed back into, well, Swiatek. The No. 1 player in women’s tennis for more than a year. The defending champion of Roland Garros. Aggressive. Decisive. Full of clarity.
Overcoming a crisis in the second set and a deficit in the third set, Swiatek defeated Muchova 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 to claim her third French Open championship and fourth career Grand Slam title.
“I really love being here,” Swiatek said. “Basically, it’s my favorite place on tour.”
Iga Swiatek passed Karolina Muchova to win her third French Open trophy and fourth Grand Slam title. Getty Images
She looked good at the beginning but was already 3-0 up after 10 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier – taking 12 of the first 15 points – and then leading 3-0 in the second set before Muchova things more intriguing to equalize.
Swiatek couldn’t seem to find the right shots and couldn’t figure out why. Players are allowed to communicate with their coaches, but whatever Tomasz Wiktorowski – or sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz – wanted to convey to Swiatek, the message either didn’t get through or it didn’t work immediately.
“I know exactly how important teams are in our sport. Even though it’s an individual sport, I wouldn’t be here without my team,” Swiatek said afterwards. “Really, thank you guys. I’m sorry you guys are so annoying…” — and she ended the sentence with that.
Muchova picked up five games out of six, making it an even set apiece. She carried this momentum into the deciding set and took the lead twice with a break.
Swiatek then returned to her usual brand of crisp, clean tennis, scurrying across the red clay with superb defense and finding just the opportunities to create a winner. She won the last three games of the game.
When it ended with a double fault from Muchova, Swiatek dropped her racquet and leaned over, covering her face as she cried.
She has now won the French Open twice in a row, along with her 2020 title there and her triumph at the US Open last September. This makes Swiatek of Poland the youngest woman to win four Grand Slam trophies since Serena Williams was 20 when she reached that number at the 2002 US Open.
Alongside Monica Seles and Naomi Osaka, 22-year-old Swiatek is only the third woman in the professional era to start a grand final 4-0.
“It was so close, but so far,” said Muchova, who is 43rd and taking part in a league game for the first time in a Slam.
“That’s what happens when you play against one of the best: Iga,” said Muchova. “That’s why I would like to congratulate you and your team once again.”
The competition was full of sections where Swiatek – the dominant player in women’s tennis for more than a year – was better and sections where Muchova was.
Every time one or the other woman seemed to lose control, every time one or the other raised her level to the point where the end was in sight, the road turned in a different direction.
Swiatek’s brilliant start meant little.
Just like Muchova’s lead of 2:0 and 4:3 in the third set.
One point made it particularly clear that Muchova was not willing to leave herself out.
Muchova served the second set at Deuce while she was 6-5 up, pushed to the net and fired a good forehand volley to the right. Swiatek then sent her left, and Muchova somehow slipped and stretched for a backhand volley while losing her balance at the same time. Her racquet fell, and she fell as well, putting her hands on the sand to steady herself.
Somehow the ball ended up in goal to take the point and moments later, as Swiatek’s backhand return sailed wide, Muchova raised her right fist and let out a scream.
Suddenly it was one set apiece. Suddenly the outcome was completely in doubt.
The question then arose: could Muchova be able to pull off another dramatic comeback like she did in Thursday’s semifinals? In that match against No.2 Aryna Sabalenka, reigning Australian Open champion, Muchova had a match point while trailing 5-2 in the third set and then completely turned the situation around by taking 20 of the last 24 points and winning each of the last five clinched games.
That result gave Muchova a 5-0 career win over top-three opponents.
Any hope of making it 6-0 faded over time.
Once again, Swiatek has shown what it takes to win. Once again, she was holding a trophy – although she waved it back and forth during the post-game ceremony, causing the top to fall off.