It’s Not a Magic Wand, Part 6

Rarely does it feel like a major tournament is supposed to end a certain way. With 128 players in each singles draw, the potential for storylines and form and momentum is off the charts. Even if there’s a big favorite going in, they might lose, or their arc might be overshadowed by someone else’s. Whoever plays the best over the course of the two weeks deservedly lifts the trophy. Going into this Roland-Garros, though, there was a clear eventual winner, and that was Iga Świątek. She had won 28 matches in a row before the tournament even started. She had jumped to #1 in the world and was extending her lead in the rankings. Having won Stuttgart and Rome on clay (and before that Doha, Indian Wells, and Miami on hard court), many would have seen it as a disappointment if Świątek didn’t win Roland-Garros. She was simply so much better than everyone else that it was hard to consider any possibility besides a title-winning run. The feeling was inevitability, if not destiny.

Świątek delivered. Despite enormous pressure, she lost just one set — even in that set, not only was she playing a superbly in-form Qinwen Zheng, but Świątek had five set points and a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak — en route to the title. It takes a special kind of overwhelming favorite for a title run to pan out exactly as you think it will, but Świątek is a special player.

When she takes the court, it doesn’t take long to see how powerful and consistent and fast and absurdly well-rounded she is. Her opponents start to struggle to win games, then points. Świątek has dominated the forehand-to-forehand exchanges in her last couple matches, not only hitting more winners than her opponents, but donating fewer errors. It’s an unbeatable combination. You realize that what you need to have a chance is not your best tennis, but for your tennis racket to turn into a magic wand. And it is not a magic wand.

Świątek in trophy position.

This is hyperbole, obviously, but not by much at this point. Players are having to play their best just to stick with Świątek, so much so that the level required to actually make headway against her is currently an unknown quantity. Few have pushed this neo-version of Świątek, and many of those who have were helped by the woman herself having an off day.

Coco Gauff, Świątek’s opponent in the final, brought plenty to the table — a better backhand than previous vanquished foes, better touch, more athleticism. It didn’t matter. Świątek won the first set 6-1, and it felt like she was playing at about 80% of her abilities. Gauff’s forehand is her shakier side, and against Świątek’s world-class groundstrokes, it unsurprisingly folded under the barrage. Gauff made a bit of headway in backhand-to-backhand rallies, and was able to score winners down the line, but her advantages were minute compared to Świątek’s.

Gauff likely has a fantastic future ahead. She’s only 18. Świątek told her after the match that at Gauff’s age, she had no idea what she was doing. Before she turns the age Świątek is now, Gauff could make enormous improvements to a game that was already good enough to get her to a major final. She will likely play Świątek many times along the way, which could create a long-term rivalry. Today, though, was about the 21-year-old Pole.

She’s won 35 matches in a row. 35! The winning streak is now made up of six titles, several of them big ones. The shift from hard courts to clay didn’t faze her. Neither did playing in-form players or especially pressured matches. Projecting what Świątek can go on to achieve makes me giddy; she’s 21 and already seems invincible. Her game is next to perfect; outside of the serve, how will she try to improve it? Grass courts are uncommon and she hasn’t played on them since last year, but mental/physical burnout aside, what can stop her from winning Wimbledon? Even if she doesn’t, she’s now won two Roland-Garros titles, and will be the favorite at the hard court majors barring a full Naomi Osaka resurgence or a seismic shift in her own level. Again, we don’t actually know what it will take to beat Świątek because no one has done it in forever. If she keeps doing what she’s doing — sure, you can argue that it’s unsustainable, but it’s worked for 35 matches in a row — this streak could reach galactic levels beyond its already spectacular heights.

Świątek’s victory was satisfying enough in the present. This title was about a supremely good player fulfilling her potential — not because everyone expected her to, but simply because she could. She did her thing. It was nice to watch.

Published by Owen

Owen has been a tennis fan since Roland-Garros in 2016. Initially a Federer fan, his preferences evened out the more tennis he watched and the more he learned. He started a blog (https://racketblog.com/) in early 2019. In the summer of 2021, he got a media credential at the ATP 250 event in Newport, Rhode Island, and got to talk to a few players, including former world No. 5 Kevin Anderson and rising star Jenson Brooksby. Owen will argue to the death that the 2009 Australian Open semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco is the greatest match ever, he hates that one-handed backhands are praised so often for their subjective elegance (sucking praise away from the more effective two-handers), and he thinks the best part of tennis is its scoring system, the mental and physical challenge not far behind. You can follow him on Twitter @tennisnation.

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