Tennis-Swiatek ready to join select club as she bids for fourth French Open title

  • Tennis
  • Wednesday, 22 May 2024

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Italian Open - Foro Italico, Rome, Italy - May 18, 2024 Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates with the trophy after winning the final match against Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

(Reuters) - Iga Swiatek will be looking to join a select band of players who have lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup four times when she begins the defence of her French Open title next week.

Since tennis turned professional in 1968, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Justine Henin have been the only women to have claimed at least four titles at Roland Garros and on current form few would bet against Swiatek adding her name to that illustrious list come June 8.

After securing back-to-back titles in WTA 1000 events in Madrid and Rome, the world number one will come out swinging in Paris on the back of a 12-match winning streak as she chases a fourth triumph in five years at the claycourt major.

Also on the line will be pulling off a rare 'Triple Crown' - with the 22-year-old bidding to become the first player since Serena Williams in 2013 to win the Madrid-Rome-Paris titles in the same season.

"She lives to play on clay... She’s playing really well, so it’s going to be tough to beat her," twice Rome champion Elina Svitolina told the WTA.

American great Martina Navratilova summed up why Swiatek is such a formidable force on red dirt.

"She’s been Chris Evert-like. That topspin drives you nuts and I think she moves as good as anybody. Clay, she’s got that down to perfection, the sliding and the movement and recovery," the 18-time Grand Slam champion was quoted as saying by the WTA.

"Just wears you out from the baseline, playing aggressive. She’s got the consistency and the major wins. That’s why she’s been No.1 for so long. Paris is the perfect venue for her game.”

Swiatek certainly left world number two Aryna Sabalenka wondering what more she needs to do to get the better of her Polish rival.

Swiatek saved three championships points to defeat Sabalenka in the Madrid final two weeks ago and then came out on top again in a showdown between world's top two at the Italian Open final, swatting aside the Belarusian 6-2 6-3 to win the 21st title of her career.

Unsurprisingly, mentally she feels more confident heading into Roland Garros this year than she did 12 months ago, when a thigh injury forced her to quit the 2023 Italian Open during her quarter-final against Elena Rybakina.

"I feel like I'm in a different place. I'm still focusing on the same things but I remember last year I was more nervous and more stressed. I felt more pressure. This time I'm kind of using the way I feel to just enjoy everything more," Swiatek said.

"I just want to stay in my rhythm, stay in my zone, be focused."

She also knows she will have a target on her back but is ready to face that challenge.

"I’m No. 1 so I’m the favourite everywhere if you look at rankings. But rankings don’t play, so ... I’ll do everything step by step and we’ll see."

(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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