13 Jun 2023

French Open 2023 review: Controversies all but forgotten as Swiatek and Djokovic shine

10:37 am on 13 June 2023
Iga SWIATEK (POL) holds the winners trophy after victory against Karolina MUCHOVA (CZE) on Philippe-CHATRIER court in the French Open Roland Garros 2023 women final.

Iga Swiatek holds the winner's trophy after victory against Karolina Muchova. Photo: Ibrahim Ezzat / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP

By Dave Worsley*

Opinion - All the cliches of sport and life came together in a giant mix for the 2023 French Open as politics infiltrated sport and sport tended to overlook real life. But all was almost forgotten on respective finals days as Iga Swiatek won the women's title for the third time in four years and maintained her No 1 world ranking while Novak Djokovic became great.

For Poland's Swiatek, winning the women's title was special in that she was the first back-to-back women's Grand Slam winner since Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2015-16 and the first at Roland Garros since Justine Henin in 2005-07.

She was challenged in the final by the all-court game of Karolina Muchova, the Czech who was in form throughout the tournament after having to fight back from injuries - to her back, her abdominals and her ankle as well as being told by some doctors to give up the game. However Muchova isn't good at giving up. In fact in the semifinals against second ranked Aryna Sabalenka she came back from 2-5 down in the third set to win.

In the final there was no come back, however there was a three-set challenge to Swiatek which saw her pushed to make uncharacteristic errors, but as is the case with the Polish player she showed true resolve to win what was her third title in four years in Paris and fourth Grand Slam overall.

She also showed some class with her support of Ukraine, wearing just a small flag on her cap.

Elsewhere the issues in Ukraine outshone the tennis as handshakes weren't accepted, or wanted, and Sabalenka said she was too scared to attend a media conference after previously being asked questions about Belarus' involvement in the war.

The whole issue became awkward. The French crowd just booed players either way, as that's what French crowds do.

And crowd reaction got worse when Japan's Miyu Kato hit a somewhat tame shot from out side of the court to the other which then connected with a ball girl. Kato was disqualified for doing so as hitting an official or ball person is a dismissal, technically correct by the rules, but also quite extreme in the situation where there was no anger, no purpose and perhaps laziness rather than malicious intent.

Kato who averages around $US150,000 ($NZ244,000) in earnings a year lost all ranking points and prize money with doubles partner Aldila Sutjiadi. Opponents Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo acted out and demanded the disqualification despite not seeing the incident.

However Kato was allowed to compete in the mixed doubles and won the title with Germany's Tim Puetz over New Zealand's Michael Venus and Bianca Andreescu in the final.

And now for the men's draw.

Djokovic won the title and as the tournament progressed appeared to get stronger in game and also reputation. The clash in the semifinals against Carlos Alcaraz - the heir apparent to the title was somewhat of a let down as the pressure which Alcaraz felt playing Djokovic got to him physically and mentally. In fact every player who came up against Djokovic felt it including Norway's Casper Ruud who finished runner up once again.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy as he celebrates his victory over Norway's Casper Ruud in the men's singles final at the 2023 French Open.

Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy as he celebrates his victory over Norway's Casper Ruud in the men's singles final. Photo: AFP

For Djokovic the 7-6(1) 6-3, 7-5 victory over Ruud put him in a now seemingly untouchable position of 23 Grand Slam titles, one ahead of the now 'retiring' Rafael Nadal and three ahead of the retired Roger Federer. He has ten Australian Open titles, three at the French Open, seven at Wimbledon and three at the US Open a record which has to be admired, appreciated and awarded true credit.

The only difficult incident with Djokovic was the comment he wrote regarding Kosovo on a TV camera lens. Things like this are best left unmentioned on the court and only sully the tennis and the supreme skills of arguably the best men's player ever.

Is Djokovic the greatest ever? Possibly. He has the most Grand Slam titles, his ability to stay in a point is unmatched, his competitive edge has never been seen before as is his drive to find new ways to keep his body at peak condition.

He may not be everyone's favourite player, however his records and place in history against some of the toughest rivals has to be acknowledged.

*Tennis journalist Dave Worsley is an RNZ contributor. He has covered 43 Grand Slams.

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