By ANDREW DAMPF, AP sports reporter
ROME (AP) — If there was one point in Iga Swiatek’s three unbeaten months that sums up why the top-ranked player has become nearly impossible to beat, it’s surely a 19-shot rally that she won against Ons Jabeur in the Italian Open final.
The point showed all the elements of Swiatek’s game, which is why the 20-year-old Polish player is an overwhelming favorite to claim her second French Open title when the Grand Slam on clay begins on Sunday.
After coming back from a 0-40 deficit and facing a fourth break point late in the second set of a 6-2, 6-2 victory, Swiatek has really found his groove. She ran two bunts, recovered a pass shot down the line – which landed on the line – and eventually won it with a backhand fair catch.
Swiatek’s big forehand, his expert coverage and quick movement, his hands and sense of the ball at net, and – perhaps most importantly – his never-give-up attitude, which is so essential on clay , were exposed.
“I kind of changed my attitude from ‘Whoa, she’s gonna spill me now’ to ‘I’m gonna hit every ball now and play every point until the last shot,'” Swiatek said.
Swiatek’s reaction after winning the point is perhaps even more telling: instead of celebrating, she immediately went to check the ball mark of Jabeur’s attempted pass, raising her finger to the chair umpire to indicate that she thought the bullet was out. That thought probably crept into Swiatek’s head during the point, but she was able to compartmentalize and maintain her relentless focus on the task at hand until she brought up the issue after the point was over.
“I did everything I could. I showed him around every corner of the court,” Jabeur said. “I know Iga plays a lot better when you open up the pitch, so maybe I should have stay more in the middle and let her lose the point. I do not know. The thing is, I (hit) a lot more (different) shots in that time. She deserved to win, that’s for sure.
Whether she deserved to win or not, no one has beaten Swiatek since 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko beat her in a third-set tiebreaker on February 16. She has won 42 of the last 43 sets she has contested.
If there were any questions about whether Swiatek deserved to be awarded the No. 1 ranking when Ash Barty suddenly retired two months ago, that debate died down during the 28-win streak. consecutive Swiatek.
The last player to win more consecutive games was Justine Henin, who won 32 in a row in 2007 and 2008. The longest streak of all time belongs to Martina Navratilova, who had a streak of 74 in 1984.
“Iga is Iga,” said Jabeur, who entered the final on an 11-game winning streak. “She deserves to be here. She deserves to win games like this.
During the women’s final, a fan held up a sign that read: ‘Keep politics out of tennis’, an apparent reference to Wimbledon’s decision to ban players from Russia and Belarus due to war in Ukraine.
Since early March, Swiatek has been playing with a ribbon pinned to his hat in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
She called it “quite bizarre” that some players have stopped wearing similar tributes to Ukraine, “because there is still war, there are still people who are suffering.”
“I will wear it until the situation improves,” Swiatek said.
As the war in Ukraine approaches three months, more than 6 million people have fled the country since Russian troops invaded on February 24, according to the UN refugee agency. More than half of the refugees, 3.3 million, fled to Poland.
During the trophy presentation ceremony on Sunday, Swiatek made reference to his family back home.
“For sure the war is affecting Poland a bit more,” Swiatek said. “It’s something I can’t experience with them because I travel all over Europe.”
Swiatek added that she plans to announce a new war-related initiative.
“I certainly want to show my support for the Ukrainian people,” she said, “like every Pole does at home.”
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