Freed-up Swiatek hits form to down 2019 finalist
Now a member of the top 20, the former junior champion hopes to reach new heights at Roland-Garros
It’s been seven long years since Cristian Garin toppled Alexander Zverev in the Roland-Garros boys’ singles final, but it could be time for the rising Chilean to reclaim a slice of his former Paris glory.
Garin, the No.20 seed, has made massive strides over the last 18 months, winning his first four titles and completing a climb that took him from a ranking of 84 at the start of 2019 all the way to his current perch at 19 in the world.
It was a key surge that changed his status in the public eye, from underachiever to elite talent, but he has yet to back up that promise at the Grand Slams, where he has competed in eight main draws and never reached beyond the second round.
Amidst all the uncertainty of a most difficult 2020 season, Garin has put himself in position to change that on Thursday. His round one victory over Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber sets him up with a second-round clash against lucky loser Marc Polmans.
Earning that opportunity turned out to be a difficult battle for Garin, and he talked about the excruciating process of trying to rediscover the potency of his game after tennis returned from its hiatus. There’s never a right time for a pandemic, but Garin says the shutdown came at precisely the wrong time for him.
“It was tough because it was in a pretty special moment for me, it was when I won two titles in a row, and then I was going to play for the first time Indian Wells and Miami,” he told rolandgarros.com. “Those tournaments are tournaments that I really wanted to play, so it was pretty tough.”
It was bad enough that tennis went offline indefinitely, but even worse for Garin: he says that he wasn’t even able to practice for an extended period.
“I couldn't play tennis for two months,” he said. “Then I started again, practicing for the US Open and it was tough for me to get back and compete again. I was in [New York], out of rhythm, it took me like three tournaments to get back to the rhythm, so it was very tough.”
Back on clay, Garin lost his first round in Rome before making a run to the semi-finals in Hamburg that has served to bolster his confidence. He dominated three-time Roland-Garros quarter-finalist Kei Nishikori and nearly toppled world No.6 Stefanos Tsitsipas before losing in three tight sets in the semi-finals.
“I'm here, in Roland-Garros, I had a pretty good week in Hamburg, I played four matches, very good level, and this week I'm also playing pretty well,” he said.
Facing a lower-ranked opponent that had never played in the Roland-Garros main draw until this year could be considered a boon, but the match-up with world No.122 Polmans is not a task that the soft-spoken 24-year-old from Santiago will take lightly.
"I'm trying to respect all the players, the conditions are not easy to play, so you see yesterday there were some very strange results,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday. “You have to be at your 100 per cent, he's a player that I don't know really well, for sure he's having a good week, he won matches on qualies and also today he beat Ugo Humbert, who was playing also in a good level.
“He's playing very well, so tomorrow I will try to recover and be ready for Thursday."
Garin has done well to find his footing on the clay and regain his early season form. His affinity for the surface, and his passion for the French capital should be enough to keep him entertained, even if life in the bubble doesn’t present a player with many options.
“Paris is my favourite city and I have to stay in the room every day, doing the same, it's tough, yes, but I have been doing the same for two months, and I got used to it,” he said, adding that he knows the heavy conditions and tricky weather will make things more unpredictable than usual at Roland-Garros in 2020.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Garin, who seems to be in tennis tunnel vision mode at the moment.
“I don't like to complain about the conditions,” he said. “I just want to play my best tennis, try my best and I'm just thinking to give my best and try to win every game."