Iga Swiatek became the 2023 French Open champion as expected on Saturday, but she really had to work for it.
The world No. 1 led by a set and 3-0 before Karolina Muchova stormed back and led 2-0 in the deciding set. But Swiatek showed her resolve, fighting back again and finally clinching victory when Muchova double-faulted to give Swiatek a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win after 2 hours, 46 minutes of enthralling clay-court tennis.
It’s the third French Open title for Swiatek and her fourth Grand Slam title in all, cementing her status as the world No. 1. It was the first time she has dropped a set in her four finals, but she’s just the third woman in the Open era to win her first four Slam finals, joining Monica Seles and Naomi Osaka.
Muchova, trying to become part of a long list of Czech women who have won Grand Slams, including Jana Novotna, Petra Kvitova and Barbora Krejcikova (the winner two years ago), lit up this year’s French Open with her variety, rushing the net in the style of players past.
At 4-4 in the third, it looked like Muchova, 26, might get the break to lead, but at the last moment, her forehand deserted her and a double-fault, just her third of the match, handed Swiatek victory. The 22-year-old Swiatek fell to her haunches for several seconds before accepting congratulations from Muchova.
“First of all, congrats to Karolina,” she said. “… I was really struck with your variety on court. I really hope we’re going to have many more finals.”
Swiatek’s only misstep of the day came when, after accepting the trophy from Chris Evert, the seven-time Roland Garros champion, Swiatek dropped the lid of the trophy as she lifted it in celebration.
How did Swiatek get the job done, and what next for the four-time Slam champion? Here are our main takeaways.
Swiatek’s nerve got her over the line
After losing serve in the opening game of the third set, Swiatek turned to her coaching team in the stands, looking for inspiration. Her three previous Grand Slam finals had all been won in straight sets, relatively straightforward affairs. This was the opposite, her mentality tested to the limit by the skill of Muchova.
From 2-0 down, Swiatek upped her intensity again, scaring Muchova away from the net and thereby removing one of the main reasons she had been able to get back into the match. Having broken back for 2-2, Swiatek fell behind again to 4-3 but instantly broke back, crunching her forehand again. The key game was the ninth, when Muchova forced a break point only to miss a lob under pressure. Two forehands into the net allowed Swiatek to hold, and as Muchova’s forehand disappeared in the next game, Swiatek took the victory.
Swiatek was aggressive when she needed it most
The tension was obvious when Swiatek double-faulted to go down 1-0 in the third set. But as champions do, she not only dug deep but became more aggressive again, as she had in the opening set when Muchova struggled to impose her game on the final.
In the final set, Muchova won just 38% of points on her second serve, way below her tournament average, and the pressure eventually told, even if she had a break point for 5-4. Swiatek was smart, attacking the more vulnerable forehand side and breaking it down.
Is Wimbledon the next frontier?
At 22, Swiatek has the world at her feet. Having won the US Open last year, she has shown she can win big titles on hard courts, so the Australian Open is well within her grasp. Wimbledon, perhaps, remains the biggest stretch. Last year, Swiatek went into Wimbledon as the favorite but ran out of steam early on. This time, she has managed her schedule well, so once she has recovered, it will come down to confidence and belief. The worrying thing for her rivals, though, is that there are areas of her game yet to be mastered, especially her net game. When she begins to feel more comfortable moving forward, the Slam titles could really begin to rack up.