As good as she’s been this year, Iga Swiatek came to the US Open unsure of what to expect.
She complained that women use different, slightly lighter, tennis balls than men do at Flushing Meadows, where she’d never been past the fourth round. She was trying to grow accustomed to the noise and distractions, the hustle and bustle, of the Big Apple. And she arrived with a record of just 4-4 since her 37-match winning streak ended in July.
None of that matters now. Cementing her status as her sport’s new dominant figure by winning what is expected to be the last tournament of Serena Williams’ career, the No. 1-ranked Swiatek outplayed No. 5 Ons Jabeur 6-2, 7-6 (5) in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday to claim her first championship at the US Open and third Grand Slam title overall.
“It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, for sure. It’s also like a confirmation for me that the sky’s the limit,” said Swiatek, who is 55-7 in tour-level matches with seven trophies in 2022, both best in the WTA. “I’m proud. Also surprised little bit.”
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She acknowledged harboring concerns about the US Open after a couple of shaky showings at hard-court tune-up tournaments.
It turned out OK: She is the first top-seeded woman to earn the US Open since 23-time major champion Williams in 2014.
“I feel like on court, I can just do my job,” Swiatek said, “and I’m happy about it, that I kind of can make these doubts go away.”
Swiatek, like Jabeur, travels with a sports psychologist, and it took some fortitude to finish this one off. At 6-5 in the second set, Swiatek held her first championship point. Right before Jabeur served, Swiatek jogged over to the sideline to change rackets — an unusual choice at that moment.
When action resumed, Swiatek missed a backhand. That could have been tough to recover from. Indeed, Jabeur pushed things to the tiebreaker, which she then led 5-4. But Swiatek steeled herself, took the last three points and soon was accepting the silver trophy and a $2.6 million winner’s check, joking: “I’m really glad that is not in cash.”
The 21-year-old from Poland won the French Open for the second time in June and is the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to collect two major titles in a single season.
“She’s really set the bar very high. It’s great for our sport,” said Jabeur, a 28-year-old from Tunisia who will rise to No. 2 in the rankings on Monday.
She is the first African woman and first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final and was participating in her second in a row. But she is 0-2 at that stage, being the runner-up at Wimbledon in July.
“Definitely, I’m not someone that’s going to give up,” said Jabeur whose support team wore black shirts with white writing that read “Yalla Habibi,” Arabic for “Let’s go, my love!” “I am sure,” she added, “I’m going to be in the final again.”
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