Swiatek ready to contend again at Roland Garros, says Dokic

  • Matt Trollope

When Roland Garros begins on Sunday, Iga Swiatek will attempt to achieve what no woman has accomplished in five years – defend a Grand Slam title. 

Serena Williams was the last female player to do so at a major tournament when she won Wimbledon in 2016, 12 months after beating Garbine Muguruza in the 2015 final. You have to rewind even further – to Justine Henin in 2007 – to find a woman who has won consecutive trophies at Roland Garros.

Swiatek, who stormed to the French title last October, returns to Paris in brilliant form, riding a six-match winning streak after crunching Karolina Pliskova in a 46-minute Rome final.

That astonishing 6-0 6-0 triumph saw her crack the top 10.

A winner of 15 of her past 16 matches on clay, she has built an impressive 19-5 win-loss record in 2021 and is the bookmakers’ favourite at Roland Garros.

However, despite her momentum, nobody truly knows how Swiatek will handle the occasion.

"It’s very new territory for her,” former world No.4 Jelena Dokic told ausopen.com.

"Even though she won Roland Garros in 2020 it came very quickly (in her career). She hasn't got a huge amount of experience of Grand Slam tennis just yet. And it's not just defending any title – it’s a Grand Slam title.

“This will be a little bit of a test for her, to see how she'll react. We just don't know, because we haven't seen her play enough at that level.”

Incredibly, Swiatek has played seven tour-level events on clay. Ever. 

Her run to last year’s French Open title came in only the seventh Grand Slam main draw of her career, when she was an unproven world No.54.

She has played sparingly on clay in 2021; outside of Rome her only other matches on the surface came in her run to the last 16 in Madrid. The player who beat her there, Ash Barty, played twice as many clay-court events in the build-up to Roland Garros.

Ash Barty shakes hands with Iga Swiatek after their third-round match at the Madrid Open
Ash Barty's defeat of Iga Swiatek (R) in the Madrid Open third round is Swiatek's only loss on clay in 2021, and her only loss in her past 16 clay-court matches. (Getty Images)

These statistics paint the picture of Swiatek as a comparative novice who could be overwhelmed when she navigates the task of defending a major title.

But Dokic believes the impact the Polish teenager has made, whenever she has played, counts for something.

"Her winning Roland Garros last year without losing a set, it doesn't just happen. It's not a fluke. There's a reason why she's a Grand Slam champion,” Dokic said.

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"She's always been impressive to me. When she made the fourth round of Australian Open 2020, she was already getting a lot of big wins. People were already talking about her, saying she could be a great player. I'm not surprised that she's come through.

"I actually think she hasn't fully come into her own. To me, in the future, she's a multiple Grand Slam champion. A potential world No.1 for sure. 

“I think she's the future of women's tennis for the next decade.”

Such high praise is understandable, give the strengths at Swiatek’s disposal.

Her ferocious forehand, lashed with unusually heavy topspin, is a deadly weapon on clay. Add to that explosive movement, groundstroke power, impressive variety and an ability to construct points, and you have a player who, according to Dokic, is devoid of weaknesses.

"Her winning Roland Garros last year without losing a set, it doesn't just happen. It's not a fluke. She's always been impressive to me."
Jelena Dokic on Iga Swiatek

And then there is her commitment to the mental side of her game, best highlighted by the fact she added a sports psychologist to her team at age 16.

Perhaps she is perfectly primed to handle the pressure and expectation in Paris, after all.

“I think Rome was such a convincing result and it should give her a lot of confidence heading into Roland Garros,” said Dokic, who won the same title exactly 20 years prior to Swiatek.

“She is so focused, professional and disciplined on and off the court. You would never think she was only 19 with the way she goes about her tennis. 

"I commentated in Adelaide this year after the AO, where she won and was so good in the final. I think it speaks to how strong she is mentally – she's so calm and composed in big moments. 

“I think the fact she had as many matches as she did in Rome, and went through that final 0 and 0 … she's a very confident clay-courter right now.”