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Swiatek seals Kenin, surges to maiden major title in Paris
2020-10-12 16:39:42

PARIS, France - Polish teenager Iga Swiatek made history in capturing her first Grand Slam title, capping off a pitch-perfect fortnight with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

"I'm just proud of myself," she said to open her post-match press conference. "I've done a great job past two weeks. I wasn't expecting to win this trophy. It's obviously amazing for me. It's a life-changing experience."

The 19-year-old, who lost no more than five games in each of her seven matches, became the first from her country to win a Grand Slam singles title in emphatic style, winning the final six games and dismissing the No.4 seed after one hour and 24 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Both women were playing their first final on the terre battue, though Kenin began 2020 with a maiden major title in Melbourne. Thrice pushed to a final set in the fortnight, the 21-year-old served out a straight-set semifinal win over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to reach the championship match.

"She obviously played a really good match," Kenin said. "She's really hot right now, playing some really great tennis. I'm not going to use this as an excuse, but my leg obviously was not the best. It's obviously disappointing."

Swiatek, by contrast, roared into her first Grand Slam final with the loss of just 23 games, the fewest since Mary Pierce finished runner-up in Paris in 1994. Facing down surprise quarter and semifinalists Martina Trevisan and Nadia Podoroska, the Polish teenager scored her most impressive wins in the first week, stunning 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the first round and avenging last year's French Open defeat to top seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep in the fourth.

"Everybody is stressed when they're playing Grand Slam finals. I just knew that Sofia may also be stressed, that she's not a machine," Swiatek said. "I was aware that we can both struggle, and we're probably not going to play our best tennis because it's hard with so much pressure.

"But I just did everything I've done in the previous rounds. I focused on technique and tactics. I tried to get rid of expectations, just play one ball after another. I didn't really care if I'm going to lose or win. I think the main key was just keeping my expectations low."

They played just once before at this very tournament - albeit on the junior level - with Swiatek knocking out the American en route to the quarterfinals of the 2016 girl's singles tournament, and was equally impressive in the first three games of Saturday's final, winning 12 of the first 15 points.

Struggling with the Chatrier shadows and Swiatek's relentless weight of shot, Kenin nonetheless got on the board and soon began imposing her own depth as she evened the set at three games apiece.

Swiatek, who reached the doubles semifinals with Nicole Melichar, battled through a pair of long games to break Kenin after nearly 10 minutes - outrallying the American on her third break point opportunity - to find herself serving for the first set.

From set point down, Kenin reversed the deficit to earn break point and blasted a backhand return winner - one that sent Swiatek's racquet flying from her hand - to get back on serve.

Strong returning from Swiatek, the first Polish woman playing a Grand Slam final since Agnieszka Radwanska at the 2012 Wimbledon Championships, followed and the Pole was ahead two more set points, making no mistake on her second opportunity as she played remarkable defense to seal a 50-minute first set.

"I just feel like I kind of made history. But I still think that Radwanska, she achieved a lot because she played on the top level of WTA for, I don't know, 12 years. I don't even know the number," she said of her illustrious countrywoman.

"I know there's going to be a lot of people who is going to compare us. But I think I have to be really consistent for the next couple years to everybody to name me like the best player in Poland because still I have a lot to do. Still I think that's kind of her place."

Exchanging breaks to open the second, Swiatek, who was cheered on from afar by good friend and US Open champion Naomi Osaka, kept pressing even as Kenin left the court for a medical timeout, winning a fifth straight game behind a barrage of winners. 

"It was so crazy for me, winning against Simona that I already thought about the tournament as my lifetime achievement. Really, I had no expectations.

"I knew it's going to be tough in the final. I didn't want to stress a lot about it, so I just told myself that I don't care and I tried to believe in that."

Championship point arrived after a service winner and Swiatek completed a nerveless performance with one last forehand winner.

"I think at the end I really just enjoyed the moment. It's not that I don't care if I'm going to win or lose, I'm just not thinking about it all the time. I'm focusing on the things I do right now because winning is just an effect of my work that I'm doing every minute."

Swiatek ended the match with an astounding 25 winners, making just 17 unforced errors while converting six of nine break point opportunities. Winning over 60% of all points played on return, she allowed Kenin just 10 points in the second set.

"It's inspiring," she said of this new wave of young Grand Slam champions that includes Kenin, Osaka, and Bianca Andreescu. "I know that there are no limits. Even though you're really young and you're an underdog, you can do a lot in a sport like tennis.

"Well, on one hand it's pretty inspiring. Sometimes I caught myself visualizing that I'm also winning a Grand Slam. But on the other hand it was also really far away. Right now when I'm here and I'm a Grand Slam champion, it's crazy.

"You believe in things, but in the back of your head you know that there's going to be a huge amount of work that you have to do to win that. Then after two weeks of great playing, you already have it. It's just - I don't know - overwhelming.

"I think I'm going to need some more time to comment on that because I need some perspective, some distance."(By David Kane, From WTA)

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