The 2020 French Open delivered a first-time winner who dominated the tournament. The breakout performance highlights my four thoughts from the women’s final.
• There are breakthroughs and then there are raids. At the 2020 French Open, we got an example of the latter. Ranked outside the top 50 and without a pro title in her brief career, Iga Swiatek came to Paris and blazed through the draw, dropping no sets. The 19-year-old Pole completed her unlikely assault on the field Saturday afternoon with a poised dismantling 6-4, 6-1 over American’s Sofia Kenin the final. In the biggest match of her life, she sustained her level, marrying courtcraft with unanswerable power and rolling over an opponent.
Swiatek becomes the first Polish player—male or female—to win a major. She becomes the first player ranked outside the top 50 to win this event. (She will be inside the top 20 when the rankings come out Monday.) She joins a small handful of players to win without dropping a set. And she becomes the WTA newest star.
• Two sources of extra credit for Swiatek. 1) She has been unapologetic about her work with a sports psychologist, Dr. Daria Abramowicz, who was part of the entourage. A break from previous generations that treated mental health as a taboo, Swiatek is, rightly, open about the mental dimension to sports. And Abramowicz had great advice following Swiatek’s semifinal win: don’t look at your phone. 2) Swiatek plays a mean game of singles and doubles; and isn’t afraid to moonlight. We can debate whether it was wise of her to play a 150-minute doubles match on the eve of the biggest singles match of her career. But there’s a case to be made that it’s the perfect way to spend the day: focused on competition and accumulating pressure while scrolling your mentions.
• As for Kenin….she is a secret hiding in plain sight. The salon, rightly, is optimistic about 16-year-old Coco Gauff and 19-year-year-old, Amanda Anisimova. But there is a third young American, who simply resides at another level from the other two right now. Kenin came within a match of becoming the first WTA player since 2016 (Angie Kerber) to win multiple Majors in a year.
Kenin might not be the picture of charm when she plays, self-flagellating after missing shots, looking to her omnipresent father for guidance, and barking staccato “come ons.” But she competes honestly. She offsets her slight stature with an outsized heart. And she couldn’t be more accessible and honest when the match ends. It’s an enduring mystery why she doesn’t get more attention, especially as she’s compiled a year that sets her up for candidacy the Hall of Fame. Let’s hope her profile keeps pace with her achievements.
• Craziest stat of the tournament: of the 32 seeds on the women’s side, there were only four matches when one seed played another, a ringing example of just how upset-heavy a tournament this was. Some of this is a function of the absences. The defending champion, Ash Barty, opted out. The winner of last month’s U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka, opted out. The winner of the U.S. Open before that, Bianca Andreescu, is still rehabbing. Serena Williams, a three-time champion in Paris, pulled out after her first match. Some of this owed to the ascent of underdogs. And some to players like Swiatek who are far better than their unseeded ranking suggested.
But here comes tennis chaos theory…. in the end, we were left with a 19-year-old arriviste with a well-rounded game to match her well-rounded personality. And a 21-year-old American, who cannot abide losing, playing in the final of her second Major in 2020. Overall, a satisfying and logical conclusion to a most dissatisfying and illogical season.