PARIS (Reuters) – The women’s tournament at the French Open has often sprung surprise winners but it is hard to see anyone other than Iga Swiatek lifting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup on the Parisian clay this year.
The 20-year-old Polish player has it all — and in recent months she has simply been unbeatable.
Having triumphed at Roland Garros in 2020, she already has the experience of conquering all before her on red dirt.
When Swiatek unexpectedly took over the world number one ranking following Ash Barty’s sudden retirement in March, it seemed to spark something inside the Pole as she will arrive at Roland Garros riding on an incredible 28-match winning streak.
It is the longest winning run since Serena Williams bagged 34 consecutive victories in 2013. It is also a far cry from Martina Navratilova’s all-time record of 74 from 1984 but such is Swiatek’s domination on the slowest surface that it will be a major shock if she does not add another seven wins to that number in Paris.
Swiatek has also won 40 of the last 41 sets she has played and is undefeated since losing to former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in Dubai in February.
The 20-year-old has won her last five events, a run that included titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Rome.
“Honestly I’m going to do the same way I’ve done here, also at other tournaments,” said Swiatek.
“I’m going to try to do step-by-step, just think of the next match as I did in these tournaments.”
If Swiatek does end up triumphing on June 4, it will be the first time in seven years that the women’s champion is not a newcomer into the Grand Slam winners’ circle.
According to Eurosport tennis analyst Mats Wilander, there will be no room for error for Swiatek, though.
“If it was five sets, I would say Iga Swiatek is always the big, big favourite because the level she would play at over five sets, she would always be the big favourite,” three-time French Open winner Wilander said.
“Because it’s three sets, there are a lot of women that can come out and play unbelievably for 45 minutes to an hour and in that time they could leave Swiatek 6-3 or up a break and suddenly we now need a little bit of luck to turn the match around.
“Because it’s three sets, I say she’s the favourite for sure, but it’s much more difficult to consistently be the favourite over three sets.”
Swiatek has been so red hot in recent weeks that it’s hard to see anyone who will have the ability to challenge her.
Defending champion and world number two Barbora Krejcikova is still recovering from an arm injury while last year’s runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has already pulled out injured.
Naomi Osaka, who shone a light on mental struggles suffered by athletes when she abruptly withdrew from last year’s championships following a row with organisers over media commitments, could be back next week but she is struggling with an Achilles injury and has never made it past the third round here.
Swiatek’s biggest rival could well be Ons Jabeur. The sixth-ranked Tunisian triumphed in Madrid – a tournament the Pole opted to skip – but was then demolished in the Rome final by Swiatek.
The war in Ukraine will be in many players’ thoughts. Russian and Belarusian players will be able to compete at Roland Garros but will then have to sit out Wimbledon as All England Club officials barred competitors from the two countries due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”. Belarus has been a key staging area for the invasion.
Swiatek has been pinning a ribbon in Ukrainian flag colours to her hat and she will continue to do so.
“I’m going to wear it until the situation is going to get better,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)