Nestled among the litany of remarkable facts about Iga Swiatek is that at just 19 years old, she values the mental side of her tennis game as much as she does the physical tools that let her more experienced opponents off court. It’s why, even in a year in which player travel parties are smaller than usual due to coronavirus restrictions, she employs and travels with a sports psychologist.
Mental coaches are nothing new in tennis. But to travel with one at such a young age, without having so much as won a single title on the WTA tour before this French Open, is noteworthy.
For Swiatek, it made a world of difference.
The teenager needed just 84 minutes on Saturday in Paris to steamroll reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 6-4, 6-1, for her first Grand Slam final and the first WTA tour title of her career, giving Poland its first major tournament champion, male or female.
Swiatek won the French Open crown exactly as she played her other six matches at Roland Garros — with cracking groundstrokes placed with laser precision, a heavy topspin forehand and a sense of calm that belies her inexperience on tour.
When she finally sealed the match on a forehand winner, Swiatek covered her mouth in disbelief then jogged off court, through the stands and up a flight of stairs to hug every member of her team. The longest was reserved for psychologist Daria Abramowicz.
“It’s amazing what a proper mind-set can do,” Swiatek said.
The victory will vault the teenager from No. 54 to No. 17 and make her a feared presence in every Grand Slam she plays from now on. But this year, playing at Roland Garros for just the second time in her career, she embraced her unheralded status.
Swiatek (pronounced shvee-ON-tek) played with the freedom of an underdog throughout the two weeks, even when the stakes were unlike anything she had faced before. She bulldozed through the draw without losing more than five games in any of her 14 sets and became the first woman since Justin Henin in 2007 to win the French Open without dropping a set.
Her dominance was doubly unexpected given the caliber of her opponents. She opened her tournament by beating 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and toppled the 2018 champion Simona Halep in the fourth round. Kenin entered Sunday’s final with a 16-1 record at majors this year.
Swiatek played the neat, all-court game whether she was expected to lose or favored, as she was in her semifinal match Thursday.