Iga Swiatek’s US Open victory cements her status as the dominant force in women’s tennis

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NEW YORK — After Ons Jabeur’s forehand sailed out of bounds, Iga Swiatek immediately dropped to the ground and covered her eyes with her hands. Polish flags waved and “Iga” chants erupted around Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Swiatek had just won the US Open, her third career major title and second of the year, with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Jabeur, and in that moment proved she is now the long-awaited dominant force in women’s tennis.

But even she seemed shocked while receiving her trophy after the match — and not just because of the $2.6 million check she was presented.

“I’m pretty glad it’s not in cash,” she joked.

Having proved she was the best in the world on clay, there still were questions about her hard-court game.

“I’m not expecting a lot, especially before this tournament, it was a challenging time,” Swiatek said on the court, while wearing a new Asics jacket featuring “1GA” and three stars to represent each major win. “Coming back from winning a Grand Slam is tricky, even if Roland Garros was the second [major title], I needed to stay composed and focus on the goals.

“It’s challenging. New York is loud, it’s so crazy. There are so many temptations in the city, so many people I’ve met who are inspiring, I’m so proud of how I’ve handled it mentally.”

While Serena Williams‘ impending retirement consumed the headlines during the first week of the tournament, Swiatek proved during her impressive fortnight that she was the heir apparent to Williams’ former role as the tour’s superstar. There have been others in recent years to achieve steady success — including Naomi Osaka, who has won four hard-court major titles, and the recently retired Ashleigh Barty, who won a Grand Slam on every surface — but Swiatek’s time is now. She is a contender wherever she plays.

It was the seventh title of the season for Swiatek — the most by a woman on tour since Williams in 2014 — and Swiatek became the first woman to win multiple majors in the same year since Angelique Kerber in 2016. Swiatek has held the No. 1 ranking since April, and she now has double the points of Jabeur, who will return to the No. 2 spot Monday.

Even the devastated Jabeur, who fought back to force a second-set tiebreak after a lopsided first set that lasted just 29 minutes, acknowledged the US Open title belonged with Swiatek after the match.

“I really tried but Iga didn’t make it easy for me,” Jabeur said on court. “She deserved to win today. I don’t like her very much right now, but it’s OK.”

It’s been an incredible rise over the past two years for the Polish star. Swiatek, a former junior champion, arrived at Roland Garros for the pandemic-delayed French Open in 2020 ranked No. 54 in the world and was barely on the radar. She left Paris a champion.

Following the breakthrough victory, Swiatek was candid about her desire to be more consistent and recognized that had been a recent struggle for many in the women’s game. She has more than made good on that hope. The 21-year-old is now the youngest three-time Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008.

During 2022 alone, she had an astounding 37-match win streak and dropped just one set during her title run at Roland Garros. In the final, she lost just four games to budding superstar Coco Gauff.

Swiatek showed throughout the summer that she wasn’t as comfortable on the hard court as she was on clay, and publicly expressed her displeasure about the balls used during the US Open swing last month, but she found ways to win when it counted most. She needed three sets in two of her matches, in the fourth round and the semifinals, en route to the final. She later said those challenges gave her more confidence.

“It kind of gives you a little bit of that trust that you can handle any situation that is out there,” Swiatek said Thursday. “Yeah, maybe some just confidence that next time you know what skill to choose and what solution to have, kind of. It’s the best experience you can have for next matches, for sure.”

She had no issues with confidence Saturday. She was far from flawless — recording more unforced errors than winners, as she had done for every match of the tournament — but found a way to win even when Jabeur raised her level in the second set.

Off the court, Swiatek has emerged as one of the tour’s more outspoken leaders, much like Williams was for so many years. She has worn a Ukrainian flag ribbon on her hat since the start of the Russian invasion of the country, and has organized multiple exhibitions to raise money for humanitarian aid and awareness, including during a “Tennis Plays for Peace” event ahead of the US Open at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Though she is naturally introverted, having a cause seems to have invigorated Swiatek and given her something more to play for than just herself.

Moments after Swiatek’s win Saturday evening, she brought her trophy to the ESPN set outside Arthur Ashe for a live interview. Thousands of fans gathered behind her, a sea of red and white, chanting her name and phrases in Polish and cheering her every word. Swiatek said during the interview that her rise in the sport began during the pandemic with few fans in attendance at events. But she looked at home, completely at ease with the big crowd and the spotlight.

When host Chris McKendry mentioned to Swiatek she had never seen a crowd quite like the one gathered except maybe for Rafael Nadal, Swiatek confidently interrupted and perhaps subconsciously shared where she too views her current spot in the sport.

“And for Serena.”

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