October 11, 2020 1:16:15 am
On Saturday, Iga Swiatek became the ninth first-time women’s singles champion in the last 14 Grand Slams. Against Sophie Kenin in the French Open final, Swiatek showed what she has shown throughout the tournament: pure clay-court tennis. At 19, she is the youngest winner at Roland Garros since Rafael Nadal in 2005. And she has borrowed a couple of pages from her favourite tennis player’s playbook, namely tons of topspin and a lethal forehand.
The average RPM (revolutions per minute) Swiatek puts on her winners is in the mid-2400s, on par with men’s semifinalist Diego Schwartzman. She has averaged the highest topspin winners on the women’s side at close to 3200rpm. On Saturday, her peak RPM crossed into the Nadal territory at 3453; Kenin’s best effort was 2064.
The whippy motion works, but a lot of Swiatek’s topspin is generated from the grip.
She uses the extreme Western forehand grip, placing her palm under the racquet which allows her to brush up and over the ball, causing it to spin forward rapidly. The motion creates greater topspin with huge power. And Swiatek’s game is built around that topspin forehand. The net-clearance on her groundstrokes is high and the ball flies few feet over the net but still drops in because to the spin.
The heavy topspin means the ball jumps upon hitting the clay, even with heavier balls and colder conditions during this year’s French Open. And higher bounce means the ball is usually out of that ideal waist-high striking zone for groundstrokes. Kenin — who at 5’7 is two inches shorter than Swiatek — was forced to either step into the ball to catch it on the rise, or hang back to hit it while it dropped.
Swiatek uses the heavy-topspin strokes to exploit angles and create awkward trajectories, making her opponents run from side-to-side. And the longer the rallies go, the more effective the tactic is.
It’s an aggressive mix of speed and spin. Swiatek can drive and curl the spinning forehand down the line or cross-court with ease. And the speed on her average forehand this tournament was 118kph, higher than the women’s average of 111. To put that in perspective, the average speed on the men’s side has been 122kph.
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