Chris Evert thinks Iga Swiatek could surpass her record of 7 French Open titles

She slides so well. Changes direction so smoothly. Her big forehand can push a foe back. Her serving is as effective as her returning.
Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates after winning her semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia  in two sets, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7), at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Thursday, June 8, 2023.
Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates after winning her semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia in two sets, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7), at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Thursday, June 8, 2023.(File Photo | AP)

PARIS: No less an authority on clay-court tennis than Chris Evert thinks her record of seven French Open championships could be surpassed by Iga Swiatek.

“Absolutely,” Evert, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, said in a phone interview. “Iga is a player on a mission. She’s more focused. She doesn’t get upset at all when she’s losing. She just has all the ingredients to be a champion. She really does. She checks all the boxes — the intangibles and the tangibles.”

Swiatek has been No. 1 in the WTA rankings for most of the past two years and will seek her fourth championship at Roland Garros — and fifth Grand Slam trophy overall — when play begins at the clay-court major tournament Sunday.

The 22-year-old from Poland was listed as the –155 money-line favorite by BetMGM Sportsbook as she tries to become the first woman to win three consecutive French Opens since Justine Henin collected a trio from 2005 to 2007. And Swiatek is coming off a rare feat: She won her past two tournaments on clay at Madrid and Rome, the first woman to pull off that clay double since Serena Williams did it 11 years ago.

She slides so well. Changes direction so smoothly. Her big forehand can push a foe back. Her serving is as effective as her returning.

“I just think Iga is the most solid of all players out there. She doesn’t seem to have any big holes in her game,” said Evert, who collected her prizes at Roland Garros in the 1970s and 1980s and closed her career with 18 Grand Slam titles, the same number as her great on-court rival, Martina Navratilova. “She’s an excellent front-runner. Once she gets going, and she’s winning, she has that confidence.”

And, as Evert noted, Swiatek is as much a marvel mentally as she is talented physically. Some of the credit for that surely goes to Daria Abramowicz, the sports psychologist who travels the circuit with Swiatek and is a constant presence at matches and at news conferences.

“I’m always kind of trying to stay present and do the same work no matter what stage of the match I’m in,” Swiatek said. “So I think that’s the main thing.”

She is 38-4 with four titles in 2024.

That sort of consistent excellence is “incredible,” and Swiatek is “great for the sport,” said four-time major champion Naomi Osaka, who could face her in the second round of the French Open.

Osaka also praised Swiatek for playing well week in and week out, “something that I honestly can’t think of, or can’t fathom, back when I was No. 1 for like five seconds.”

There is no sense of complacency with Swiatek. Nor does she — outwardly, anyway — get too down after a poor match.

No victory — or loss, for that matter — seems to linger with her for too long. It’s simply on to the next one.

“Even if I win, it doesn’t stick in my head,” Swiatek said. “I celebrate for one day, then I’m off to another tournament, in my head, even.”

Opponents talk about the difficulty of trying to find a weakness on court against her. And they uniformly describe a constant sense of feeling as though Swiatek puts them under pressure, never allowing a moment to find a way out.

“She’s incredible. Her consistency and her focus is quite impressive. The way she’s been kind of handling her career, to go from one tournament and keep the focus, for her, works really well,” said Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion and former top-ranked player.

As for what sort of success Swiatek might have as the years go by?

“On the long term, it’s hard to predict. The tour is long. Players have injuries, etc., etc., so I don’t want to guess what is going to happen,” Azarenka said. “But at the moment, she definitely fully deserves to be No. 1, with the way she’s playing.”

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