Iga Swiatek wins a third consecutive French Open women's title by overwhelming Jasmine Paolini

PARIS (AP) — For a few minutes, anyway, it seemed as if Iga Swiatek was a bit off in the French Open final against Jasmine Paolini. Swiatek kept making mistakes early Saturday, got broken in the third game and trailed at Court Philippe Chatrier.

Might a true surprise be in the offing? Could Paolini not only make a match of this, but actually win it? Um, no. Not even close. Not with the way Swiatek can dominate opponents, especially on red clay.

The top-seeded Swiatek quickly recalibrated her wayward strokes and simply overwhelmed Paolini, grabbing 10 games in a row en route to a 6-2, 6-1 victory that gave her a third consecutive championship at Roland Garros and fourth in five years.

The 23-year-old from Poland had to save a match point in a second-round victory against Naomi Osaka last week, but in the five matches after that three-set escape, Swiatek dropped a total of only 17 games.

“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. I’m really proud of myself, because the expectations obviously have been pretty high from the outside. Pressure, as well,” said Swiatek, who is 35-2 overall at the French Open, including a current streak of 21 straight victories. “I’m happy that I just went for it and I was ready to deal with all of this — and I could win.”

She is the first woman with three trophies in a row in Paris since Justine Henin from 2005 to 2007.

The 12th-seeded Paolini, a 28-year-old from Italy appearing in her first Slam final, called facing Swiatek at Roland Garros “the toughest challenge in this sport.”

Swiatek also won the French Open in 2020 and the U.S. Open in 2022 and is now 5-0 in major finals.

She added this triumph to those on clay at Madrid and Rome last month, becoming the first woman to win all three events since Serena Williams did it in 2013.

“I never played a player that has this intensity before in my life,” Paolini said. “For me, right now, I think it was the most challenging match I played in my entire career.”

During Saturday's postmatch ceremony, Swiatek was flanked by a pair of women who each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Evert said before this French Open that she thinks Swiatek could eventually surpass her women's record of seven championships in Paris.

Paolini, who will rise to a career-best No. 7 in the rankings Monday, had never been past the second round at one of the four most important tennis tournaments until getting to the fourth round at the Australian Open in January. She will play in the French Open women’s doubles final on Sunday with partner Sara Errani against 2023 U.S. Open singles champion Coco Gauff and Katerina Siniakova.

Before the final began, a loud chant of “Let’s go, Jasmine! Let’s go!” arose from Paolini’s supporters in the stands, each wearing a T-shirt in one of the colors of the Italian flag: green, white or red.

After Swiatek got the match’s first point, a fan yelled in French, “Jasmine, it’s not over!”

But Swiatek briefly went through a shaky stretch, failing to convert a break point in the second game, then getting broken to trail 2-1 after 13 minutes when she flubbed a forehand.

It was Swiatek’s seventh unforced error of the afternoon; Paolini had made only one. The rest of the way, those numbers: six unforced errors by Swiatek, 17 by Paolini.

Swiatek, who heard plenty of “Iga!” chants, immediately reset herself and began playing the sort of tennis that put her at No. 1 for nearly every week since April 2022. The instincts and footwork to get to almost any shot. The intimidating, heavy-spin forehands. The prematch strategy and midmatch adjustments.

And once Swiatek got going, there was nothing Paolini could do to slow her down.

“I got broken at the beginning, so it wasn’t maybe perfect,” Swiatek said, “but I think the level was pretty high.”

Absolutely.

She broke at love for 2-all, capping the game with a return winner off a serve at 87 mph (140 kph). The following game began with a 25-stroke exchange that Swiatek ended with a backhand winner that Paolini did not even try to chase. Now Swiatek led 3-2 and, in a blink, she owned that set and a 5-0 lead in the second.

“You have to push, push, push every ball,” Paolini said, explaining that Swiatek hits shots much sooner and closer to the baseline, while swinging her racket harder, than most other foes. “If not, you have no chance.”

After just 1 hour, 8 minutes of play, Swiatek was celebrating by dropping to her knees behind the baseline.

Soon, she was sitting on her sideline bench and using her phone to snap a selfie while holding up four fingers to represent her haul of French Open trophies. No one would be shocked if that number keeps rising.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis