Poland Garros: Swiatek continues love affair with clay

She's adept at finishing points early or forcing the opponents to play the extra ball
Poland's Iga Swiatek kisses the trophy as she celebrates after winning against Italy's Jasmine Paolini at the end of women's singles final match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day fourteen of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on June 8, 2024.
Poland's Iga Swiatek kisses the trophy as she celebrates after winning against Italy's Jasmine Paolini at the end of women's singles final match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day fourteen of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on June 8, 2024. Photo- AFP

CHENNAI: Rather poetic, isn't it? The year when one clay God may have disappeared forever, another one has probably assumed the top step on the podium. Less than two weeks after Rafael Nadal, who owned Roland Garros for the last two decades, lost in the first round, Iga Swiatek coasted to her third straight triumph in the Paris dirt.

Jasmine Paolini, Swiatek's opponent, threatened to make a match of it. Ten minutes in, the Italian had just broken for a 2-1 lead in the opening stanza. That was the wake up call the Pole needed. What followed was a clinic on precise ball-striking, working the angles and being clinical. After that early lead, the 23-year-old won 10 straight games to race into a 6-2, 5-0 lead. She may have closed out the Championships with a bagel but Paolini held serve. However, the bakery wasn't to be denied as she won the final 6-2, 6-1.

Most one-sided finals bring with it the feeling of an anti-climax. This was one, though, was a reaffirmation of far ahead of the rest Swiatek is on clay (she has won four times in Paris and her record is a staggering 35-2). A few days ago, Sania Mirza, former doubles World No. 1, when speaking to select media, had called her 'a beast' on the surface. She summed it up perfectly. After Paolini broke Swiatek in the third game, she had won a total of 12 points. For the rest of the 68-minute encounter, she managed to win only 19 more.

When the match began, Swiatek seemed to be a bit tight, especially down her backhand wing. The errors were flowing as she racked up five in no time. After a recalibration, she was the one who started dictating the points. What she did really well was damage Paolini's first serves. The Italian, first woman in a Major final since the 2015 US Open, in fact, had the better percentages. She managed to land 67% of her first serves (Swiatek only had 62) but it didn't matter. The Pole repeatedly won points on it. She also wore the Italian down rather quickly as she sent her from coast to coast.  

What also makes Swiatek such a dangerous player is that she can stay in the rallies against most players. She's adept at finishing points early or forcing the opponents to play the extra ball. The end result? The Italian, who found some joy with her forehand winners at the end of rallies in some of the earlier games, had no such moments. Out of the 44 points decided by rallies longer than four strokes, the Pole won nearly twice as much (29-15). When the denouement came, it was swift. Three weeks later, the five-time Major will be at Wimbledon, hoping to tackle the only surface that has caused her some problems. For the time being, though, she will bask in the adulation of Paris. Not for nothing is it known as the City of Love.

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