Iga Swiatek beats Maria Sakkari for the BNP Paribas Open title

Iga Swiatek’s first attempt to lift the BNP Paribas Open trophy was a no-go. The crystal sculpture was too heavy, its form too bulky, to lift it from the table, where it gleamed in the Sunday afternoon sun.

Swiatek raised her index finger towards the crowd as if to tell the fans celebrating her triumph over Maria Sakkari to wait a second, she would try again. It took a whole physical effort, but the 20-year-old from Poland finally got a good grip and held up the winning prize, a scene that is sure to play out again and again for the next ten years or more.

“I’m blown away,” she said of her 6-4, 6-1 win, but it made perfect sense for the woman, who has been keen to improve her game and has relied on a sports psychologist to guide her mental approach since her shock strengthen the tennis world by winning the 2020 French Open as an unseeded competitor.

Swiatek, who will earn $1,231,245 for her work at a tournament that ranks a tier below the four Slam events, has won 11 straight games. She’s 20-3 this season, most wins on the women’s tour. That includes winning the title in Doha, Qatar last month before coming here, where she defeated three-time Grand Slam singles champion Angelique Kerber in the round of 16 and two-time Slam singles champion Simona Halep in the semifinals before prevailing against a below the Summit Sakkari.

“Well played. You’re a great champion, a great person,” Sakkari told Swiatek during the awards ceremony. “You deserve this – you deserve more.”

Swiatek will rise to second in the world rankings behind Ashleigh Barty of Australia on Monday, level with Agnieszka Radwanska for the highest placing by a Polish player. She seems to be the only person surprised by this.

“To be honest, at the beginning of the tournament I wouldn’t even think about winning. Of course you have to believe in yourself, but I’m a realistic person, so,” she said, leaving her thought unfinished.

Iga Swiatek serves for Maria Sakkari in Indian Wells on Sunday.

Iga Swiatek serves for Maria Sakkari in Indian Wells on Sunday.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

“Yeah sure, especially winning after playing so well in Doha gives me a lot of confidence and a kind of belief that I can do it because I wouldn’t consider myself someone ready to play two tournaments in a row play and win it. Hard work definitely pays off. Yeah, I mean I’ve felt the pressure on my shoulders a little more over the past few days because of the stage of the tournament and obviously how big it is. As you say, it’s the biggest tournament after Grand Slams. The last few days have been really stressful for me. That’s another reason why I’m proud of myself for having made it.”

Although Indian Wells is known as a tennis paradise for its lush surroundings and laid-back vibe, gusty winds made for conditions that were far from fortunate on Sunday.

Both women struggled to hold serve in the opening set, trading breaks until Swiatek held for 3-2. Swiatek broke Sakkari’s serve in the next game, crowned by a double fault from Sakkari, to take a 4-2 lead. Sakkari broke Swiatek and held serve for the first time to make it 4-4, but Swiatek won the next game when Sakkari hit a return. Swiatek won the set on her third chance when Sakkari netted a backhand.

Sakkari saved two break points in the second game of the second set but failed to stop Swiatek in the fourth game. Sakkari sabotaged her own chances by double faulting twice in that game to allow Swiatek a 3-1 lead. Swiatek, making a comfortable move, earned another break to make it 5-1 and decided the match with a forehand winner.

“I really think I made a step up this week even though I lost today,” said Sakkari, the highest-ranked Greek in women’s Tour history. “It was a week that will have a special place in my heart. I know it sounds kinda weird because I didn’t win the tournament, but I felt like I was improving.”

Swiatek’s next challenge – aside from lifting the lighter replica trophy she’ll receive – is to do it all over again. She competed in the Miami Open this week and expectations will be high. “Every tournament is a different story,” she said.

Most of them had happy endings. Many more will do so in the future. Iga Swiatek beats Maria Sakkari for the BNP Paribas Open title

Andrew Schnitker

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