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Swiatek seals place among greats with 'surreal' fourth French Open

Iga Swiatek celebrates with the trophy after winning at Roland Garros for the fourth time (Emmanuel Dunand)
Iga Swiatek celebrates with the trophy after winning at Roland Garros for the fourth time (Emmanuel Dunand)

Iga Swiatek secured her place among tennis greats on Saturday as she joined an exclusive club of four-time women's French Open champions with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Jasmine Paolini.

The 23-year-old from Poland became only the fourth woman to win four Roland Garros singles titles in the Open era, joining Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Justine Henin.

She is also the first player to claim three successive women's titles in Paris since Henin in 2007. Monica Seles was the first to do so, triumphing from 1990-92.

"I'm really proud of myself, because the expectations obviously have been pretty high from the outside. Pressure, as well," said Swiatek.

"I'm a perfectionist, so there is always pressure behind me. But I think I'm fine with handling my own pressure.

"It's when the pressure from the outside hits me, then it's a little bit worse. But I managed it really well at this tournament."

Swiatek's latest coronation came as no surprise, but her run to the title was not without its hiccups -- and tears.

She saved a match point against Naomi Osaka in the second round, later weeping in the gym as her emotions took over.

"I honestly thought that I'm going to be out of the tournament," Swiatek recalled after her third-round win.

"Even though I felt something on court, it kind of hit me after. I was happy that I won, but I still felt like I was really on the edge. So, yeah, I just cried."

From that point, nobody could get close to Swiatek, who conceded a mere 11 games from the fourth round onwards -- the joint-fewest en route to winning a women's major in the Open era.

- Rare treble -

The world number one also completed a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros treble. The only other woman in history to do it in the same season is Serena Williams.

"This tournament has been pretty surreal with its beginning and with second round, and then I was able to get my game better and better every match," said Swiatek.

Ominously for her rivals, the escape act against Osaka has filled the Pole with even greater resolve.

"For sure it gives me the feeling that I should always believe in myself, that I can find my tennis even if I'm in big trouble, you know and with this tennis, fight back," said Swiatek. "It gives me confidence."

At 23, she has won the same number of French Open titles as Rafael Nadal, the record 14-time men's champion, had at the same age.

With the exception of her 2022 US Open victory, Swiatek's success in Paris far exceeds her results at the other Grand Slams.

But as a former Wimbledon junior champion and a winner of six WTA 1000 hard-court events, it is surely only a matter of time until Swiatek hits upon the right formula to translate her clay form into more major titles on other surfaces.

It was after Nadal's fourth Roland Garros that the Spaniard went on to lift his maiden Wimbledon trophy.

Swiatek, who said before the tournament it was "too early" to consider herself the 'Queen of Clay', again was reluctant to draw comparisons with her idol Nadal.

Swiatek has yet to make it past the quarter-finals of the main draw at Wimbledon, and is not setting any specific goals.

"I don't expect a lot. The balls are different. Overall tennis is different on grass. I'll just see and I'll work hard to play better there," she said.

mw/pb