French Open takeaways: Nadal, Iga reign supreme once again in Paris

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French Open takeaways: Nadal, Iga reign supreme once again in Paris

The 2022 French Open played out the way many expected.

Rafael Nadal won a record-extending 14th title at Roland Garros, while Iga Swiatek captured her second tournament crown in three years.

Here are five takeaways from the fortnight in Paris, including more on Nadal’s and Swiatek’s victories.

Nadal’s legacy keeps growing

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Although Nadal dispatched first-time Grand Slam finalist Casper Ruud with ease, the Spaniard’s run to a 22nd career major was anything but simple. Nadal revealed after the championship match that he’d been receiving injections for a foot injury throughout the tournament. The treatment numbed the pain but meant he played with one foot asleep.

Still, Nadal managed to deliver another memorable two-week performance in Paris, dropping just three sets. The King of Clay is now 112-3 at Roland Garros.

Nadal overcame a pair of four-hour slugfests against Felix Auger-Aliassime and Novak Djokovic in the round of 16 and quarterfinal, respectively. He then defeated Alexander Zverev and Ruud to become the third man to beat four top-10 players at a Grand Slam. At 36 years and 2 days, he also became the oldest men’s singles champion at Roland Garros ever.

Iga poised for stardom

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If there were any doubts about who’d replace the retired Ash Barty atop the women’s game, Swiatek has more than answered the call. The Polish star breezed past teenage phenom Coco Gauff in Saturday’s women’s final for her sixth consecutive tournament crown and 35th straight victory. Swiatek trails only Djokovic and Roger Federer for the longest unbeaten streak in the 21st century.

During a torrid four-month stretch, Swiatek became the top-ranked player on the women’s circuit. She’s 18-0 since ascending to No. 1, dropping just six sets during that span, according to ESPN Stats & Info. She’s no one-trick pony either – three of her WTA 1000 titles this season have come on hard courts.

Swiatek’s power from both wings, strong defensive play, and variety should make her a threat on all surfaces for years to come. With numerous legends on the men’s and women’s tours nearing the end of the road, the 21-year-old is the superstar tennis needs.

FAA knocking on the door

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Auger-Aliassime pushed Nadal to the limit during their fourth-round clash. He claimed two sets to join Djokovic and John Isner as the only players to force a fifth set against the Spanish legend at the French Open.

The rising Canadian star struggled in previous high-stake matches, losing his first eight ATP final appearances. However, he stayed mentally focused against Nadal. The No. 9 seed forced Nadal into 44 errors and went toe-to-toe with him in several grueling rallies, pressuring the Spaniard to raise his level of play. The Montreal native also posted more winners and a higher first-serve percentage.

Despite coming up short, Auger-Aliassime appears poised for a major breakthrough soon. He was one set away from defeating Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open and lost a tight matchup versus Djokovic at the Italian Open in May.

“(Auger-Aliassime is) one of the best players in the world,” Nadal said postmatch. “He is very young and with a lot of power and mobility. For me, he was a very, very tough opponent today. He does a lot of things well and has been improving.”

Coco managing pressure, expectations

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Gauff has long been considered the future of women’s tennis. At the age of 10, the Floridian caught the eye of Serena Williams’ longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou when she tried out for a spot at his famed academy. Three years later, Gauff became the youngest girls’ singles finalist in US Open history. The former top-ranked junior continued to rewrite the record books at the pro level – in 2019, she became the youngest player in the Open era to reach the main draw at Wimbledon as a qualifier.

The American checked off another important milestone over the weekend with her first Grand Slam final appearance. It didn’t go exactly as planned – Swiatek dismantled her in just over an hour – but she should be proud of what she accomplished over the past two weeks.

Gauff managed to reach a major final in just her 11th Grand Slam main draw. Her backhand and footwork are already among the best in the game. But most importantly, the 18-year-old has kept a level head despite facing enormous pressure since breaking onto the scene, and she seems wise beyond her years.

“Even last year, I think I was too focused on trying to fulfill other people’s expectations,” Gauff told the Parisian crowd after her quarterfinal win.

“Just enjoy life. I know no matter how good or bad my career is, I think I’m a great person. So I think that’s a message for all the young players out here. Even in life in general, your results, your job, or how much money you make doesn’t define you as a person. So just know that if you love yourself, who cares what anyone else thinks?”

Leylah’s no flash in the pan

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Many became acquainted with Leylah Fernandez during her magical run to the US Open final last fall. As an unseeded competitor, she became the youngest player since Williams in 1999 to beat three top-five seeded players at the same major.

Fernandez has had a relatively quiet 2022 season outside of her title defense in Monterrey. She carried a 12-7 record into Roland Garros, including a first-round exit at the Australian Open. However, the Canadian began to pick up steam once she hit the courts in Paris.

The 19-year-old won her first two matches in straight sets. She then battled past former major semifinalists Belinda Bencic and Amanda Anisimova in the third and fourth round, respectively, showing the same resolve that won over the New York crowd several months ago.

Fernandez’s momentum was brought to a halt with a loss to Martina Trevisian in the quarterfinals, but her performance in defeat stood out. With a foot injury affecting her trademark mobility, Fernandez shortened points by attempting more drop shots and volleys than usual. While the on-the-fly adjustments took her out of her comfort zone, they helped force a third set and showed that she could still hang around any match without her best weapons.

Unfortunately, the Grade 3 stress fracture Fernandez sustained in her right foot will keep her sidelined through Wimbledon, but that should only be a minor setback in what continues to look like a promising career.