As has become her trademark, Iga Swiatek was unstoppable once she stepped on court for the US Open final.
The world No.1 earned her third major title, and second of 2022, thanks to a 6-2 7-6(5) triumph in Saturday’s decider against Ons Jabeur, a battle between the world’s best-performed players this season.
Beginning with her run to the 2020 Roland Garros title, this was her 10th consecutive victory in a final, and she’s won 20 consecutive sets in those finals.
Jabeur was the 10th consecutive top-10 player she has defeated – all wins that have come in straight sets, except for her semifinal win two nights ago against Aryna Sabalenka.
These are jaw-droppingly dominant statistics.
With 13+ weeks as @wta world no. 1 and her 3️⃣rd major title, @iga_swiatek is now an automatic inclusion on her first eligible International Tennis Hall of Fame ballot, 5 years after retirement. ?? https://t.co/dNkP0XxVLT— Tennis Hall of Fame (@TennisHalloFame) September 10, 2022
But Swiatek did not feel like one of the game’s dominant forces just a few weeks ago.
Her incredible 37-match winning streak had been snapped by Alize Cornet in the third round at Wimbledon, and she was now struggling on North American hard courts, expressing her displeasure with the lighter ball designated for women’s matches in Cincinnati – the same ones which would be in use at the US Open.
Once in New York, Swiatek sprayed unforced errors in large volumes in her first four matches, but managed to reign in her forehand at the most necessary junctures to survive.
And the deeper she advanced in the tournament – as Jessica Pegula and Sabalenka will attest – the better she became.
By the time she stepped out onto Arthur Ashe Stadium to face Jabeur, she was a player transformed.
In a near-flawless first set, she landed 90 per cent of first serves, all 19 of her returns, won eight of nine points at the net, and struck 11 winners against eight unforced errors.
“I think that's the only match here where I started that well,” Swiatek said.
“I had that at the beginning of the season, I think, during that streak. I had many matches where I started well. It kind of disappeared a little bit in the second part of the season.
“It gave me a lot of confidence. If you're going to start well, then it's much easier to just continue and to not feel that kind of pressure during the final.”
Defending brilliantly, and playing with controlled aggression, she quickly built a 6-2 3-0 lead and held three break points for 4-0.
She was cruising towards a victory that would last barely an hour.
Jabeur, who will return to world No.2 on Monday, rallied. She is too good of a player not to.
Buoyed by enthusiastic fans who wanted to see a tighter match, the Tunisian star ensured they got one, levelling scores at 4-4, saving a championship point in the 12th game, and coming within two points of sending the match to a third.
But Swiatek remained steady, and Jabeur was keenly aware of the world No.1’s ruthlessness on the biggest stage.
IGA SWIATEK'S LAST 10 FINALS
|2020||Roland Garros||clay||Sofia Kenin||64 61|
|2021||Adelaide||hard||Belinda Bencic||62 62|
|2021||Rome||clay||Karolina Pliskova||60 60|
|2022||Doha||hard||Anett Kontaveit||62 60|
|2022||Indian Wells||hard||Maria Sakkari||64 61|
|2022||Miami||hard||Naomi Osaka||64 60|
|2022||Stuttgart||clay||Aryna Sabalenka||62 62|
|2022||Rome||clay||Ons Jabeur||62 62|
|2022||Roland Garros||clay||Coco Gauff||61 63|
|2022||US Open||hard||Ons Jabeur||62 76(5)|
“To be honest, I have nothing to regret because I did everything possible,” Jabeur reflected.
“I wish I served little bit better today. It would have helped me a lot.
“(But) you know Iga, how she plays in finals. It's very tough to beat her.”
The 21-year-old secured victory when Jabeur’s last forehand flew long, becoming the first woman since Angelique Kerber six years ago to win more than one major trophy in a single season.
“I’m just not expecting a lot, especially before this tournament, it was such a challenging time… I really needed to stay composed and focus on the goals,” Swiatek said.
“This tournament was really challenging also, because it’s New York – it’s so loud, it’s so crazy (laughter). So many temptations in this city, so many people I’ve met who are so inspiring, it’s really mind-blowing for me. And I’m so proud that I could handle it mentally.”
When Swiatek won Roland Garros in early June, it was her sixth consecutive title in a remarkable run that saw her assume complete control of the women’s tour.
For the next three months, it appeared the effort to sustain that level had drained her, and the chasing pack had begun to reel her in.
But now, with her seventh title of the season – the most in one year since Serena Williams in 2014 – she has once again accelerated away from her challengers.
If she could achieve this level of success at a tournament staged in a city and using balls that tested her resolve, then what might she achieve when she finds conditions more to her liking?
“I don't know honestly,” she answered.
“I still have to realise that it's tough out there, so I want to, kind of, stay on the ground.
“I have played some tournaments like that this season. Miami, for example, was like that. I really like it there. It's just easier. But still you need the same kind of focus and the same kind of routine.
“I wasn't sure if I was on the level yet to win actually a Grand Slam, especially on US Open where the surface is so fast.
“It's also like a confirmation for me that sky is the limit.”