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Swiatek and Nadal triumph at French Open

On Saturday 10th October, Iga Swiatek caused a major upset by winning the French Open and becoming the youngest champion at Roland Garros since Rafael Nadal in 2005. The 19-year-old world number 54 beat fourth seed Sofiah Kenin 6-4, 6-1 in the final, thereby becoming the first Polish player ever to win a Grand Slam, in a breakthrough performance reminiscent of Boris Becker’s first Wimbledon triumph 35 years ago. Kenin for her part was attempting to add to the Australian Open title she won in January, but Swiatek produced a masterful performance, combining relentless court coverage with powerful ground-strokes to claim her maiden Grand Slam title, astonishingly without losing a single set during the tournament.

Swiatek had first shown herself to be a contender for the title when she saw off pre-tournament favourite Simona Halep 6-1 6-2 in the fourth round. World number two Halep had herself set her sights set on Ash Barty’s world number one spot after the champion withdrew from the tournament due to Coronavirus concerns, but Swiatek swept the Romanian aside to progress to the quarter finals.

Halep was not the only big name to struggle in a tournament that saw five unseeded players, including three qualifiers, reach the quarter final. Second seed Karolina Pliskova was eliminated in the second round and Serena Williams withdrew from her second-round match after the resurgence of an Achilles injury first picked up in September. But the tournament belonged to 19-year-old Swiatek, who became the seventh different winner of the French Open in seven years.

On the men’s side it was a familiar story as Rafael Nadal powered his way to the title with a straight-sets win over Novak Djokovic. Nadal’s victory continued his total domination of the French Open that has seen him win the title 13 times in the last 15 years. Few, if any, sportspeople have ever been so dominant in a single event for such an extended time. Before the tournament, there were some question marks as to whether Nadal would be able to maintain his phenomenal record, but he silenced any doubters with one of his best performances yet.

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Nadal now moves level with Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slams and after this performance he will believe he can surpass the Swiss to sit outright at the top of the men’s all-time list. Meanwhile, Djokovic remains on 17 Grand Slams and must now begin to wonder if Nadal and Federer are creeping out of his reach.

The Serb had entered the competition as strong favourite after starting the truncated season well and looked in good form as he eased into the semi-finals, losing only one set. However, a gruelling five-set match against Stefanos Tsitsipas left him looking vulnerable going into the final, and he was blown away by Nadal, who has now racked up a mind-boggling 100 wins at Roland Garros.

This year’s tournament also added fuel to the debate surrounding the final set after the first-round match between Lorenzo Giustino and Corentin Moutet was eventually decided 18-16 in the fifth. The French Open is the only Grand Slam still to use an advantage set rather than a final set tie break, and while epic matches like this, the second longest in French Open history, can be great spectacles, they can also cause serious injury to the players and disrupt scheduling if they take too long.

But there is no debate as to who the king of Roland Garros is, and after yet another victory, Nadal surely cements his place as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. The rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do in order to wrestle the title from the king of clay.

Image: Peter Menzel via Wikimedia Commons