With A Three-Peat Looming, Swiatek Peaking For Roland-Garros At Right Time

Iga Swiatek (photo: Roland-Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 25, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

By any metric, Iga Swiatek is peaking at the right time for this year’s French Open. After all, as the 22-year-old Polish superstar arrives for this year’s clay-court major, she’s the winner of 12 consecutive matches and 38 of 42 overall this year, including back-to-back WTA 1000 titles on clay at Madrid and Rome.

Swiatek, who has won four titles this season – all of them at the 1000 level, including earlier hard-court crowns earned at Indian Wells and Doha – will begin defense of her Roland-Garros title against 143rd-ranked French qualifier Leolia Jeanjean.

“Honestly, I love this place, so I am always excited to come back,” Swiatek said during an on-stage interview with host Marc Maury at Thursday’s draw ceremony. “It feels like home. I’m happy that after [winning] Rome I had a couple of days off. I came here Monday and I already feel Parisian, alive and everything. I went sighting a little bit. I’m happy to be here. I love it here.”

As the Paris fortnight begins Sunday, Swiatek believes she’s a more dangerous player than two years ago, when she was in the midst of a 37-match winning streak and wrapping up the second of her three French Open titles.

“I think I’m a better player because I just grew and I worked hard during the past two years,” Swiatek said during her Media Day news conference Friday at Stade Roland-Garros. “I feel like I’m progressing, so I guess I should be a better tennis player.”

While it’s only natural for everyone to compare Swiatek’s two remarkable seasons, when she was asked about it, Swiatek suggested that in 2022 she was able to take the WTA Tour by surprise. Now, Swiatek is arguably the face of women’s tennis – thanks to her success on the tennis court.

“Comparing the results, or my feelings,” she said, “two years ago it was all kind of new for me, and I think I won so many matches also because nobody expected it. When the streak started, I wasn’t even second in the rankings, so I think other players were also unprepared maybe for my game sometimes.”

And now, as World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 3 Coco Gauff and fourth-ranked Elena Rybakina prepare to mount a challenge, Swiatek has a good shot at a three-peat – three straight French titles – which hasn’t been done since Justine Henin achieved the feat from 2005-07.

“For sure when we play against each other, I feel like it’s a challenge,” Swiatek said of her rivalry with Sabalenka, whom she beat in the finals of both Madrid and Rome earlier this month. “I think it’s also pushing me to become better and better player, so I think we both kind of need each other to grow.

“But for sure this rivalry is exciting for the fans, as well. I guess if it’s going to go to history books, they’re also going to have some impact on it.”

Few better than Wawrinka on what it’s like facing the Big Four

There are few better players than 39-year-old Stan Wawrinka to give an insight on what it’s like facing the Big Four of men’s tennis: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. After all, his career has overlapped with each of the four future Hall of Famers, and luck of the draw, the 2015 French Open champion will square off against the 37-year-old Murray in the first round at this year’s Roland-Garros. Recently, Wawrinka shared his thoughts on each with British tennis writer Stuart Fraser of The Times of London.

On Federer: “Roger had the ability to make you uncomfortable on the court, to change the game, to play fast, to play slow, To mix it up. Even if you thought you knew what to expect from him, it was always something different.”

On Nadal: “Rafa was physically a beast on the court. It was tough to find a solution, even if he was doing the same in constantly pushing you back behind the baseline. It was difficult to keep up with him.”

On Djokovic: “Novak is the cleanest technically on the court. He was like a model of the perfect player. Everything is clean and everything was nice. When he was on, everything was too fast.”

On Murray: “Even if it didn’t look like it, Andy would always find a way. He would find a way to win the point and find a way out of defense. When you think he is not going to reach the ball, he would find a passing shot.”

Cornet on what she will and won’t miss about tennis

Alizé Cornet, the 34-year-old Grand Dame of French women’s tennis, recently announced she will retire from pro tennis following this year’s Roland-Garros. The 107th-ranked Cornet, a native of Nice, received a wild card from the French Tennis Federation into the main draw and will face World No. 8 and seventh seed Zheng Qinwen on Tuesday, no doubt on a show court. Cornet holds the Open Era record for consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearances, which began at the Australian Open in 2007 and reaches 69 at this year’s Paris major.

During Friday’s Roland-Garros Media Day, Cornet, who made her debut as a 15-year-old wild card at the 2005 French Open and twice reached the fourth round (2015, 2017), was asked what she will miss and won’t miss from tennis.

“The inner child that is within me still likes to play tennis,” Cornet said. “What I will miss as well is the emotion that you feel when you win matches. It’s actually pretty addictive. This is what gives us the impetus to do better every day, the adrenaline, this emotion, what you feel during matches, this something that you can find hardly anywhere else in normal life.”

Cornet added: “But this also what I will not miss at the same time, because when you live it so many times for such a long time, then you grow weary after some time. It’s nice to have ups and downs over so many years but not that many years. From a psychological point of view, it can actually grow on you. It was good to hold my own for such a long time, to stay at such a high level for nearly 20 years, but it also cost me emotionally speaking, and from a psychological point of view as well.

“I’m ready to have a life that would be easier. I’m not going to say that I’m going to be a granny now, but I gave it my all. I gave it my all and even more.”

Cornet has already written and published two books. Transcendence: Diary of a Tennis Addict was a memoir translated into English in 2021, and more recently, she wrote a novel, La Valse des Jours, which she once described as “a family saga in homage to thru women in my life.”

“Quotable from RG Media Day …”

“I practiced with Rafa yesterday (Thursday) and he played pretty well, like I felt much better than what I saw on TV in Rome and Madrid. … I’m not shy to say I’m happy it’s not me playing against him first round.”

Daniil Medvedev of Russia, on what his reaction might have been if he had been drawn to play Rafael Nadal in the first round.

“I feel much better than at the end of last year. Mentally, it was hard. Consciously, we never realize but I feel better. It’s part of the past now. We learn from the past.

“If I keep thinking about it, it wouldn’t be good for me. I know that it’s part of the past, it’s part of the game, and I’m starting new. I hope that I will make my dream come true one day.”

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, on letting go of the pain of losing consecutive Wimbledon finals.

“I’m feeling better. Every practice that I have done here, at home, it was pretty good. I’m feeling better and better. At least I can practice, hit balls without pain. That’s a really good point for me. I’m excited to play my first match here in Roland Garros.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, on being able to practice without pain.