Tennis-Clay queen Swiatek rules again at Roland Garros

By Shrivathsa Sridhar

PARIS (Reuters) -Iga Swiatek produced a ruthless performance to crush 12th seed Jasmine Paolini on Saturday and win a third straight French Open crown and fifth Grand Slam title of her career.

Swiatek's 6-2 6-1 win, her 21st in a row at her happiest hunting ground, put her fourth on the list of longest streaks at Roland Garros in the Open era behind Chris Evert (29), Monica Seles (25) and Justine Henin (24).

She also became the third woman to capture three consecutive French Open crowns after Henin (2005-07) and Seles (1990-92).

The 23-year-old Pole extended her run of victories on clay to a career-best 19 matches to clinch her fourth French Open title in five years.

"It means a lot. This tournament has been pretty surreal with its beginning and the second round, and then I was able to get my game better every match," Swiatek told reporters, with the shining Suzanne Lenglen cup beside her.

"I'm really proud of myself because the expectations have been pretty high from the outside. Pressure, as well. I'm happy that I just went for it and I was ready to deal with all of this. And I could win."

Swiatek, now 5-0 in major finals having claimed the U.S. Open in 2022, is the first woman to lift the same Grand Slam title for three successive years since American Serena Williams from 2012-14 at Flushing Meadows.

But she said that the demands of being a perfectionist had weighed on her this year.

"It's when the pressure from the outside hits me, then it's a little bit worse," Swiatek said. "But I managed it well at this tournament.

"It was an emotional win, because I felt a lot of stress yesterday and today in the morning. I felt really proud of myself."

GUNS BLAZING

Swiatek came out all guns blazing but after narrowly missing the opportunity to break from 0-40 down in the second game, the top seed Pole made heavy weather of the next to surrender her serve, before bouncing right back.

The diminutive Paolini, the third Italian woman after Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani to reach the Roland Garros final since the sport turned professional in 1968, went toe to toe with Swiatek before cracking in the sixth game.

With the momentum shifting, Swiatek began to dominate the exchanges from the baseline, superbly working the angles and sealing the opening set in 37 minutes after winning 20 out of 24 points since going down a break.

A shell-shocked Paolini smiled and won odd points early in the next set, but her challenge faded in the afternoon sun as Swiatek broke twice to build a 4-0 lead.

Swiatek, who dropped only one set throughout the tournament in a second-round clash with Naomi Osaka, won 10 straight games before Paolini finally got on the board but there was to be no late comeback.

Swiatek closed out the win in 68 minutes when Paolini hit a shot long, dropping to her knees and pumping her fists while letting out a huge roar, before joining her entourage in the stands to celebrate.

"To play you here is the toughest challenge in this sport," Paolini, who will compete in the doubles final with Errani on Sunday, told Swiatek at the presentation ceremony.

The 28-year-old, who will rise to number seven in the world on Monday, expanded on the difficulties of playing Swiatek.

"She's taking the balls early... She can defend really well," Paolini said. "She won four titles and she's still 23. These numbers aren't normal. They're unbelievable."

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Paris; Additional reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)