NEW YORK (AP) — Good as she’s been this year, Iga Swiatek came to the U.S. Open unsure of what to expect.
She complained that women use different, slightly lighter, tennis balls than the 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 U.S. Open and third Grand Slam title overall.
Swiatek’s lopsided victory improved her record in tour-level matches to 55-7 with seven trophies in 2022, both best in the WTA.
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.
Jabeur, a 28-year-old from Tunisia, 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.
Didn’t help on this sunny, 85-degree Fahrenheit (29.4 Celsius) afternoon that Jabeur needed to deal with Swiatek, whose all-around excellence is only amplified when a trophy is available. Swiatek has won her past 10 finals — all in straight sets — and was great from the get-go Saturday.
Jabeur did not face a single break point in her semifinal victory Thursday against Caroline Garcia, but she got broken right away when Swiatek laced a cross-court backhand winner off a short ball to cap a 15-stroke exchange.
Eight minutes in, Swiatek had grabbed 12 of the first 14 points for a 3-0 edge.
Using her heavy topspin forehand to take charge from the baseline in the early going, Swiatek dictated the tempo and trajectory of points. She ran her opponent this way and that, never letting Jabeur use the sorts of spins and variety that she’s accustomed to.
When Jabeur, who will rise to No. 2 in the rankings Monday, did show off some of what she can do, Swiatek would manage, more often than not, to elongate points. She used her strong court coverage, backed by a soundtrack of squeaky sneakers as she darted everywhere, sometimes even sliding as she arrived at a ball, the way one does on red clay, her favorite surface.
When Jabeur missed a slice forehand early in the second set, she dropped her racket to reflect her despair. A few points later, she flung her racket while off-balance and falling face down. A running, down-the-line backhand passing shot from Swiatek on the next point made it 2-0 in that set. Swiatek raised a clenched fist and yelled, “Come on!”
Soon after that, Jabeur made things interesting, briefly. But only briefly.
She got to 4-all and, after ending up on her back after an off-balance backhand won a point in the next game, she stayed there, enjoying the moment, pumping her fists while laying on the ground.
Jabeur earned three break chances in that game, any one of which would have allowed her to serve for the set. She could not cash in there, though, missing a groundstroke on each.
Then, at 6-5 in the set, Swiatek held her first championship point as Jabeur served. Right before the point began, Swiatek jogged over to the sideline to change rackets — an unusual choice at that moment.
Swiatek then missed a backhand, and Jabeur pushed things to the tiebreaker and led it 5-4. But Swiatek took the last three points and soon was down on her back, a major champ again.
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