Iga Swiatek took note when Naomi Osaka was accumulating three Grand Slam trophies by age 22.
Swiatek also was paying attention, of course, when Bianca Andreescu won her first major at 19. And when Sofia Kenin added her name to the list of Slam champions at 21.
“For sure, it’s, like, inspiring. I know that there are no limits,” Swiatek, still just 19 herself, said Saturday after winning the French Open for the first tour-level title of her nascent career. “Even though you’re really young, and you’re an underdog, you can do a lot in a sport like tennis.”
The old guard of men’s tennis has been holding off the kids for years and years, with Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal in the French Open final Sunday just the latest example of the Big Three’s hold on that segment of the sport. For the women, there is a whole new wave of talent breaking through, time after time, and it augurs a fascinating future.
Swiatek is merely the latest example of a fresh face with the talent to make her a factor for years.
She beat Kenin 6-4, 6-1 at Roland Garros on Saturday to wrap up a remarkable run, never dropping a set, and losing just 28 games, en route to becoming a Grand Slam champion in only her seventh appearance at one of the sport’s biggest events.
“Maybe it just had to be like that — that another underdog is going to win a Grand Slam in women’s tennis,” Swiatek said. “It’s (happening) so often right now that it’s crazy.”
That’s true. The younger set is thriving. And coming from new places, too.
Osaka was the first player from Japan — man or woman — to earn a Grand Slam singles title when she did it at the 2018 U.S. Open. Andreescu accomplished that milestone for Canada at last year’s U.S. Open. And now Swiatek has done it for Poland.
Five of the last eight women’s Grand Slam titles, and 12 of the past 20, were won by first-time major champs. Seven of the past eight were won by women 23 or younger.
Compare that to the state of the men’s game, where 27-year-old Dominic Thiem’s triumph at the U.S. Open last month made him the first man to become a first-time Slam champion since 2014. He also was the first man born in the 1990s to collect a Grand Slam trophy.
Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer simply haven’t been leaving room for others. After the French Open, the Big Three will have combined to win 14 of the past 15 Grand Slam titles and 57 of the last 69; this year’s U.S. Open was the first Slam since 2004 without at least one of them in the semifinals.
For the better part of two decades, Serena Williams ruled women’s tennis, accumulating 23 major singles championships. And while she has reached four Grand Slam finals since returning after more than a year away while having a baby, she has not added a 24th trophy to her collection, going 0-4 in those title matches.
Williams turned 39 the day before the French Open began, and she was gone after one match, withdrawing before the second round because of an Achilles injury that made it hard for her to walk without a limp.
Her sister, Venus, who is now 40, owns seven Grand Slam singles titles, but she lost in the first round in Paris, making her 0-3 in matches at majors this year.
The Swiatek vs. Kenin matchup made for the first French Open final between two women 21 or younger since Justine Henin beat Kim Clijsters in 2003.
“A new generation (is) coming up,” Kenin said. “It’s always good to see youngsters taking over and playing great tennis. It’s always good to mix it up.”