Freed-up Swiatek hits form to down 2019 finalist

Polish 19-year-old shifts mental approach after New York and the results are immediate with upset of Vondrousova.

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

No matter the talent level, success at the Grand Slams can prove fleeting. Speed bumps are unavoidable, and young players must simultaneously grasp the reality that along with success, comes failure.

The two entities move hand in hand in a sport that crowns only one champion at the end of each tournament.

A runner-up at Roland-Garros last year, Marketa Vondrousova can appreciate this fact well. The talented Czech southpaw, who in 2019 delighted fans with a wonderfully diverse, befuddling game as she became the first teenage finalist in Paris since 2007, was knocked out of the tournament on Monday by 19-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland. 

“I think she was too good today, she didn’t give me much chances, but I think she was just better,” a disappointed Vondrousova told reporters after falling to the world No.52, 6-1, 6-2, in 63 minutes. 

The Czech, who was coming off a semi-final in Rome last week, learned the hard way that momentum doesn’t always cross the Italian border.

“It’s kind of different from Rome here,” she said. “It was kind of tough, but I think she just played very well.”

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Swiatek was also one of the biggest stories of Roland-Garros in 2019. She reached the round of 16 on her Paris debut, there joining a talented trio of teenagers, which included Vondrousova, then 19, and American Amanda Anisimova, then 17. 

Swiatek has learned the opposite about momentum: it can be created away from the match court, in the mind. She admitted she had experienced a long, difficult process rebounding from tough losses in New York this summer.

She said she built up so many expectations ahead of the US Open, that it inhibited her ability to perform. 

"It was really hard for me to come back from this Covid break,” she said, referring to a two-tournament stretch that saw her go 2-2 and lose to Victoria Azarenka in the third-round of the US Open. “I felt a lot of pressure. I was really stressed when I played in New York.” 

Swiatek said the long process of rebuilding her mental state began in New York with her team, which features coach Piotr Sierzputowski, and her sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz.

“I think going back to the good state I'm in right now it was a long process and it started at the Western & Southern Open, so I really needed a lot of time, but that was the first time I had such high expectations in my career, so it wasn't easy,” she said. “And I feel like next time it's going to be better because right now I have more experience and maybe from the beginning I'm not going to put a lot of expectations on myself."

On Monday, it was easy to tell Swiatek was liberated from pressure. She drove the ball with authority and aggressively pushed Vondrousova around the court, never letting the crafty Czech create chaos with her trademark drop shots. 

"I am pretty excited,” Swiatek said. “I just felt that I had control of everything today. I was kind of scared of Marketa's drop shots, so I wanted not to give her opportunities to play drop shots and I wanted to hit the ball hard and play really offensive." 

Next up the young talent will take on another crafty veteran, Hsieh Su-Wei of Chinese Taipei. 

"She's like a special, her game is really specific," Swiatek said. "I think we're going to need extra preparation. I think we're going to need to talk to my coach about tactics more. We're always talking but right now it's going to be more important." 

With so much working in her favour, it’s not too hard to picture the Pole going on another deep run at Roland-Garros. It goes to show momentum can come in many forms, and as long as you have something positive that pushes you forward, the results can come. 

"It's OK for me not to play perfectly," Swiatek said. "I just wanted to play my best tennis and feel good on court, because I had sometimes a hard time in past tournaments."