The 2022 U.S. Open will always be remembered — outside of Poland, at least — for its farewell to Serena Williams, long the queen of tennis and the greatest women’s player ever.
Beware, though, after Poland’s Iga Swiatek won the women’s singles title Saturday, beating Ons Jabeur of Tunisia Saturday afternoon at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the sport may have a new ruler on its hands.
Swiatek, the world No. 1, lived up to her billing and beat Jabeur, 6-2, 7-6(5), to capture her first U.S. Open singles title. It was the third Grand Slam title of Swiatek’s brief career and her first on a surface other than clay.
When Jabeur’s last forehand sailed long, Swiatek collapsed on her back after a 1 hour, 51 minute duel that got dangerously close as the afternoon wore on. After a first set that was over in 30 minutes, Swiatek and Jabeur took 81 minutes to finish the second as Jabeur battled back from a service break down twice to get the set into a tiebreaker before Swiatek ultimately prevailed.
Swiatek, 21, won the French Open in 2020 and 2022, becoming the first Polish woman to win a Grand Slam singles title. And now she is the first Polish woman to win three and the U.S. Open, where she was the first Polish woman to make the singles final.
How young is this new tennis queen? She is Gen-Z to the core. After the extended congratulatory hug with Jabeur, and a little bit of celebrating, she took a seat in her chair, pulled her phone from her bag and texted away as she awaited the trophy ceremony
For Swiatek, the victory was the latest success in a season full of them. She won 37 consecutive matches and six consecutive titles from late winter to early summer. Those victories included the so-called Sunshine Double — winning both the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and the Miami Open in March and April.
Those wins, on hard courts similar to those at the U.S. Open, announced Swiatek as a force on courts other than clay, on which she was already dominant. She has won so many 6-0 sets this year — a “bagel” in tennis parlance — that the saying “Iga’s bakery” was coined.
Swiatek’s surge to the top came at an opportune time. In March, Ashleigh Barty of Australia, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion and the world No. 1, abruptly retired at 25 years old, saying she had accomplished all she wanted in the sport and was ready for a new challenge.
In her departure, Barty, then the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, left a significant void in women’s tennis, which has largely been a free-for-all in recent years.
No woman has won more than two Grand Slam titles in a calendar year since Williams won three in 2015. Since late 2020, Swiatek has done all she can to bring some order to women’s tennis, winning three of the past 10 Grand Slam titles.
Beyond her dominance on the court, Swiatek has assumed a leadership role off it. She has spoken out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine more than any player who is not from Ukraine and has helped raise more than $2 million for relief efforts through her participation in tennis exhibitions, one of which she organized herself.
“We’re trying to do our best to be good people,” she said during the trophy ceremony, as red-and-white Polish flags swung throughout the stands.
From the start, all the signs pointed to this being Swiatek’s afternoon. During the warm-up, the sound system blasted AC/DC, one of her favorite bands. (Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin also have a major presence on her playlist.)
Once the balls started flying, Swiatek gave little reason for anyone to believe that this match would go any differently from so many finals before. Coming in, Swiatek had played in 10 career finals. She has not lost one since her first, way back in 2019. Even more remarkably, she has not lost a set in any of those wins.
“Iga never loses finals, so it is going to be very tough,” Jabeur said Thursday night, as Swiatek staged her second comeback in this tournament from a set down in her semifinal battle against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, a player she was especially determined not to lose to for a variety of reasons.
Against Jabeur on Saturday, Swiatek ambushed from the start. She won 12 of the first 14 points, sprinting to a 3-0 lead. Jabeur climbed back, getting back on serve as Swiatek momentarily lost control of her overpowering forehand. But then Swiatek went right back to business, with a style that has become more clinical than fancy.
With Jabeur putting up so little resistance, she didn’t need to do much more than hit deep into the court. Eventually, Jabeur either made an error or landed a shot somewhere around the service line, allowing Swiatek to move in and blast away. The first set was over in 30 minutes.
The queens of women’s tennis historically have done this sort of thing.
Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era and to reach the highest level of the sport, has arguably the most creative arsenal in the women’s game. When she is on, she can mix jumping backhand drop shots with a dangerous forehand and a deceptively hard serve that she can land in the corners with nasty movement.
She reached the Wimbledon final earlier this summer and held a one-set lead before tightening and getting overpowered by Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. Ahead of Saturday, she spoke of the lessons she had learned from that match and how she now knew ways to keep her emotions in check.
But with Swiatek in top form, there was little that Jabeur, who has become an inspiration for Arab women, could do to stop the locomotive.
“We’re going to get that title sometime soon,” she said after losing her second Grand Slam final of the year. “Hopefully this is the beginning of so many things.”
The second set followed a similar pattern to the first at the beginning, with Swiatek surging to a 3-0 lead, Jabeur getting back on serve, and then Swiatek, seizing control right back in the sixth game to get within two games of the championship
From there, the only question was whether Swiatek’s occasionally shaky psyche might get the better of her or whether a crowd that swung to Jabeur’s side, begging her to extend the afternoon and make their high-price tickets worthwhile, might be able to rattle her.
A few random knuckleheads started whistling in the middle of Swiatek’s service motion. A baby cried. Jabeur abandoned the cute stuff. No more variety for variety’s sake. She tried to match Swiatek’s power from the baseline. It worked as she evened the set at four games each.
Swiatek is so different, though, from the fragile player who won her first Grand Slam title as a teenager. She has evolved from a player who cried in the bathroom during toilet breaks in the middle of matches into a problem solver.
That player might never have had a prayer of prevailing in New York, where all the noise and commotion — passing trains and planes, fans who feel they have the right to long raucous matches and to help determine the outcome — make winning here such a different task from anywhere else.
“It’s New York, so loud, so crazy,” she would say later of both her past two weeks and this match.
Just keeping the ball in play was no longer working. Jabeur was sending her back and forth across the baseline and held chances to break Swiatek’s serve in the next game and serve for the second set. And just then, Swiatek figured out how to calm her nerves and dial back the mistakes. It wasn’t pretty, but it solved the problem, or at least stopped too many more from happening.
Jabeur would stretch Swiatek, getting as close as anyone has in a Grand Slam final to winning a set. But in the tiebreaker, strokes that had become smooth and steady started sailing. On their final point, Swiatek’s first serve was not even close, and she lobbed in her second ball. The forehand Swiatek hit off Jabeur’s return floated into the middle of the court, but Jabeur couldn’t take advantage of it, and the championship was hers.
There should be many, many more.