Swiatek v Kostyuk: Things we learned

 - Danielle Rossingh

Defending champion Iga Swiatek withstands Marta Kostyuk's spirited fight for second straight Roland-Garros quarter-final berth

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Defending champion Iga Swiatek maintained her stunning form as she reached the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros on Monday.

Here’s what we learned from the 20-year-old’s hard-fought 6-3, 6-4 win over Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine under the lights on the Court Philippe Chatrier.

Defending champ clutch under pressure

Playing a younger opponent with nothing to lose, in a match that everyone expected her to win, could easily have been a recipe for an upset. But Swiatek has shown this past week she is the real deal when it comes to dealing with pressure.

Playing freely and making life hard for her opponent with blistering groundstrokes, the 18-year-old Ukrainian made a fast start, breaking for a 2-1 lead. Swiatek didn’t panic, just knuckled down and began to force Kostyuk to go for too much, which led to mistakes.

Swiatek, who became Poland’s first Grand Slam singles winner last year with an unbeaten run to the title, improved as the match wore on. After misfiring on serve early on, she made some adjustments and began to find her range, preventing Kostyuk from attacking as she did in the early stages.

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Even when under pressure, Swiatek kept a cool head and dug herself out of trouble with flair.

She will need to maintain that calmness on and off the court as she is the only woman left in the women’s singles draw who has been to a Grand Slam final. The pressure is on, but she’s coping well, and remains humble.

 “Pretty happy that I am both in doubles and singles in the quarter-final,” Swiatek said in an on-court interview after winning the match with a stunning volley lob.

The 20-year-old also reached the last eight in doubles with her American partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands, after they saved seven match points to deny top seeds Elise Mertens and Hsieh Su-wei.

“It is a big achievement. I won last year, but being in the quarter-final of a Grand Slam isn’t like an everyday thing. I’m really proud that I am doing good. I have good support with me."

Swiatek an exceptional front-runner

Swiatek had gone into the match with a win-loss record of 104-10 when she had won the first set, and extended that streak on Monday night in Paris.

Swiatek has now won 17 matches in a row –32 of her past 33 – after winning the opening set. Only former Roland-Garros champion Simona Halep – in the fourth round at Melbourne Park earlier this year – has managed to turn things around after dropping the first set against the Pole since the 2020 Australian Open.

Swiatek’s run at Roland-Garros now stands at 11 successive victories, all in straight sets.

Marta Kostyuk, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Nadal’s influence rubs off on Swiatek

When she is not practising with Rafael Nadal, as she did earlier in the tournament, Swiatek can always be relied on to throw in a mention of the 13-time men's champion.

When asked about her performance on Monday – and that of Kostyuk – it was no surprise to hear the Spaniard’s name once more.

“Her defence was crazy so I had to finish her a few times,” Swiatek said of Kostyuk. “I’m not Rafa, but my approaches are also pretty hard and she was getting everything. Big credit to her, the future is hers. I hope we play a lot of matches together.”

Kostyuk shows huge potential for bigger to come

At 18, Kostyuk is already one of the youngest players in the top 100, and she will climb to a career-high ranking of No.65 after Paris.

Judging from her performance in Paris, where she upset former winner Garbine Muguruza from Spain in the first round, and gave the defending champion a real test in the fourth round, the young Ukrainian has the potential to go far.

Roland-Garros was only her fifth Grand Slam event and with time and experience, she was expected to become even more of a threat to the biggest names.

With Ivan Ljubicic – the coach of Roger Federer – as her manager, and working closely with her mother Talina, a former tennis professional herself, she has all the right tools to succeed.