Image Source: Reuters
World number one Iga Swiatek swept to a 6-2 7-6(5) victory over Tunisia's Ons Jabeur in the U.S. Open final on Saturday to clinch her maiden trophy at Flushing Meadows and third Grand Slam crown.
Poland's Swiatek fell on her back and covered her face with her hands after prevailing in the tight second-set tiebreak, having sealed the win when fifth seed Jabeur's shot sailed long.
It was twice French Open champion Swiatek's first Grand Slam title on a hard court and the 21-year-old is the first Polish woman to win the U.S. Open.
"I really needed to stay composed and focused on the goals, and at this tournament it was really challenging," Swiatek said during the on-court trophy ceremony.
"It's New York, it's so loud, it's so crazy. There were so many temptations in the city ... I'm so proud I could handle it mentally."
In addition to the trophy, Swiatek also leaves New York with a $2.6 million winner's check.
"I'm really glad that it's not in cash," she said to laughs from the sold-out crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Swiatek did well during the match to tune out the crowd, who at times whistled and made other noises while she was serving, earning stern rebukes from the chair umpire.
The demonstrative Jabeur was able to harness the energy of her fans at times but it was not enough to overcome the focused and determined Swiatek.
"Ons, such an amazing tournament, such an amazing season," Swiatek said after improving to 3-2 lifetime against Jabeur.
"I know that this is already a pretty nice rivalry and we're going to have many more. I'm pretty sure you're going to win some of them so don't worry."
Despite the defeat, Wimbledon finalist Jabeur will regain her world number two ranking when the tournament concludes on Sunday.
"I really tried but Iga didn't make it easy for me," Jabeur said.
"She deserved to win today. I don't like her very much right now but it's okay," she added with a smile.
"I'm going to keep fighting hard and we'll get that title sometime soon."
Jabeur made history at Wimbledon when she became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final. She added another line in the history books in New York, becoming the first African woman to reach the U.S. Open championship match.
"Hopefully I can inspire more and more generations, that's the goal," she said. "This is just the beginning of so many things."
Swiatek came out firing on Saturday, pushing Jabeur to the back of the court with her precise serve and deep groundstrokes to race to a 3-0 lead.
Jabeur found the range with her forehand to win back-to-back games for 3-2 but the momentum was short-lived as Swiatek broke back and took the 30-minute first set when the Tunisian's backhand landed in the net.
A confident front-runner, Swiatek kept the pressure on early in the second as frustration began to mount for Jabeur, who dropped her racket in dismay when her normally trusty drop shot landed short of the net in the second game of the set.
Swiatek blasted a backhand winner down the line for a 3-0 second set lead and it seemed the match would be a brief affair.
But Jabeur rallied, saving a match point at 6-5 and forcing a tiebreak.
She made some costly unforced errors in the tiebreaker, however, which opened the door for Swiatek, who exchanged a warm embrace with the Tunisian after the match.
ONE IN 40 MILLION
Swiatek's title in New York is the latest triumph in a season overflowing with them.
She ascended to world number one following the surprising retirement of Australian Ash Barty in March and quickly showed she was worthy of the position, winning 37 consecutive matches, including the French Open.
The claycourt specialist showed she could be successful on hard courts, too, with wins at Indian Wells and Miami, but finally looked vulnerable after early exits at U.S. Open tune-up events in Toronto and Cincinnati.
She made headlines coming into New York by criticizing the balls being used at the U.S. Open and said her expectations for herself were low.
Swiatek's path to the title was not plain sailing.
She needed to battle back from a set down in her fourth-round match with 108th-ranked Jule Niemeier and from 4-2 down in the third set against Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-final.
But she peaked at the right time, playing her best tennis of the tournament to see off Jabeur and etch her name once again into Poland's sporting history.
"Being raised in Poland, it's not so sure for us that we will be tennis superstars," she told ESPN while white-and-red clad Polish tennis fans chanted "Iga! Iga!".
"When I was younger I just logically thought that I'm just one of 40 million people in the country. What's the possibility that I will be the one to be out there?
"I just worked hard day by day."