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Swiatek wins thriller third French Open title

By AFP - Jun 10,2023 - Last updated at Jun 10,2023

Poland’s Iga Swiatek poses with the trophy following her victory over Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova during their women’s singles final match on Day 14 of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris on Saturday (AFP photo by Julien De Rosa)

PARIS — Iga Swiatek battled past Karolina Muchova 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 to win her third French Open title on Saturday and become the first woman to successfully defend the Roland Garros title since 2007.

The 22-year-old Swiatek is just the third woman in the Open era to win each of her first four Grand Slam , the Pole adding to her 2020 and 2022 titles in Paris and last year’s US Open triumph. 

Muchova, the fourth lowest ranked women’s finalist ever in Paris, fought back from a set and 3-0 down, and twice led Swiatek by a break in the decider before her fate was sealed with a double fault on match point.

“It’s pretty surreal, everything,” said Swiatek, the world number one from Poland.

“But the match was really intense, a lot of ups and downs. Stressful moments and coming back. So I’m pretty happy that at the end I could be solid in those few last games and finish it.”

“Karolina really played well. It was a big challenge.”

Justine Henin was the last woman to win successive Roland Garros crowns when she captured her third in a row and fourth in total 16 years ago.

Swiatek’s latest coronation caps another dominant two weeks on the clay in Paris, where her record stands at 28 wins and two losses in five visits.

Muchova, at 43 in the world, was appearing in her first Grand Slam final, after doctors warned her last year she may never play the sport again.

“This was so close and yet so far, that’s what happens when you play one of the best,” said a tearful Muchova. 

“The feeling is a little bitter, but to call myself a Grand Slam finalist is amazing.”

The unseeded Czech came into the final having won all five matches in her career against players in the top three — four of them at Grand Slams — after stunning Aryna Sabalenka in the semi.

On guard against an underdog with a habit of taking those down at the top, Swiatek quickly applied pressure on the 26-year-old Muchova, playing her biggest match of an injury-hit career.

A miscued forehand from Muchova gave the Pole two break points in the second game which she took with minimal fuss.

The top seed consolidated with a quick hold before Muchova got on the board in game four, drawing loud roars from the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd.

Muchova carved out a break opportunity to get back on serve but Swiatek snuffed it out in a protracted fifth game — pumping her fist in relief as she surged 4-1 up.

Swiatek saw another break point come and go the following game, but her disappointment was brief as she easily won the next two games to wrap up the opening set.

Muchova had outfoxed her rivals with her cunning variety throughout the tournament, but Swiatek had clearly done her homework since the Czech won their only other meeting in Prague in 2019.

A loose service game allowed Swiatek to pull 3-0 in front in the second set, but Muchova refused to roll over, displaying the grit and resolve she used to rally from match point down against Sabalenka in the previous round.

A crunching forehand down the line retrieved the break before Muchova levelled at three games each.

Swiatek slowed Muchova’s momentum as the pair traded holds before the reigning champion showed her first real sign of nerves, double-faulting to leave her rival serving at 5-4 to force a decider.

Muchova couldn’t take advantage as Swiatek broke right back, but another shaky game from the Pole presented her with another shot.

Two set points passed Muchova by but she set up a third with a brilliant backhand volley on the stretch, with Swiatek then pumping her return long to send the match to a third set.

Muchova sensed the tide was turning in her favour as Swiatek’s title defence began to creak, the Pole broken to love as her opponent rattled off eight straight points to move 2-0 ahead.

But with her formidable record at Roland Garros, Swiatek came storming back and snatched three games on the bounce. 

Muchova broke for 4-3 only for Swiatek to hit back immediately and then secure a nervy hold, resisting another break point, to move within a game of victory.

Swiatek swiftly raced 30-0 ahead and earned two championship points when Muchova dragged a forehand wide, the Czech succumbing in the most brutal of ways with a double fault to end a thrilling contest.

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