Swiatek overcomes brief wobble

World No.1 gets tested in second set before storming into the last 16

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Julien Crosnier/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

We're running out of superlatives for world No.1 Iga Swiatek, who “switched modes” to fend off danger in her third round on Saturday, making her way back to the Roland-Garros last-16 stage for the fourth time in as many appearances.

The 20-year-old extended her astonishing winning streak to 31 matches by toppling world No.95 Danka Kovinic 6-3, 7-5 on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Chinese teen Zheng Qinwen awaits in the next round.

Story of the match

The Pole produced a world No.1 level from the very first shot, claiming the opening six points.

The second game was a microcosm of what makes the top seed such a difficult puzzle to solve.

Swiatek was ramping up the pressure with cannonball shots that clipped the lines, lassoing shoulder height forehands, just like her idol Rafael Nadal, to have the Montenegrin against the ropes.

Five break points came and went for Swiatek, with Kovininc desperately seeking an escape, but after 17 minutes of being on the back foot, the world No.95 finally relented to fall 2-0 down.

A hold to love in a flash and it looked probable the Pole was racing towards another ‘bagel’ set (she has already delivered 15 of those this season).

Not quite. At 4-2, 40-0 up came Swiatek’s first true test. The 20-year-old completely lost her timing on the forehand wing, surrendering five consecutive points and her serve.

Utilising her champion’s mentality, which has yielded five straight titles coming into Paris, Swiatek broke back to love, held to love and those eight points snatched away the opener in a flash.

That dominance remained in similar fashion in the second set, as the top seed went up a double-break 4-1.

Kovinic, however, started to swing freely, knocking Swiatek off balance and posting a vital break.

The confidence was coursing at 3-4, breaking to love with some canny angles and a sumptuous forehand drop shot. Another sturdy hold, Kovinic had wrestled away the initiative with 16 of the previous 20 points to edge 5-4 ahead.

How would the 2020 champion respond? Emphatically is the answer, zipping through three games to overcome her sternest examination so far.

Key stats

Swiatek is a self-confessed perfectionist, so she won’t be thrilled by three breaks of serve and an unusually off-beat 5 of 10 conversion on her own break opportunities.

The laser-beam groundstrokes lost their path on several occasions, going into a negative ratio 13-23 in terms of winners and unforced errors. Scarily for her rivals, there’s plenty to work on for the Pole.

Still, 20 straight sets, 31 successive wins, Swiatek marches on.

What the players said

"I wanted to play really aggressively but sometimes I feel I was putting too much power and it was pretty hard to control it when I was playing full speed. I needed to play with a little less risk and try to be more consistent,” stated Swiatek.

"She did a pretty good job of defending and giving back at full speed. She was serving really precisely, it was a little tricky, but I have played with some heavy hitters already, it was just pretty hard to adjust at the beginning, I just had to switch the modes on my receiving.

Asked about gaining a fast start in Grand Slam matches, she said: “I feel like I can play more fearlessly later in the sets, but today I lost both the breaks. But playing well at the beginning is putting pressure on my opponents, which is pretty important for me.”

The Pole is determined to not be consumed by the talk and components of her winning streak, eager to banish any mid-match thoughts creeping in about an eventual loss.

“Well, they do (creep in), but I just try to focus on the stuff that actually is going to give me something. Thinking about all these stats, it's not really helpful,” she explained. 

“I try to be really strict in terms of my thoughts and try to really focus on finding solutions.

“The biggest part of the job is to manage them properly and to really shift the focus on the right things. I think I did that pretty well, but they are there."

The 19-year-old Zheng was leading Alize Cornet 6-0, 3-0 before the French veteran was forced to retire. Ahead of their first meeting, Swiatek is already aware of the talent world No.74 Zheng possesses.

“I'm not really familiar, honestly. Because I didn't watch a lot of tennis during past couple of months, but I have heard some other players talking about her," said Swiatek.

“Even when she lost some matches, people were really telling that she has a talent. For now I'm going to prepare, for sure.”