Even In Defeat, Playing Halep Proved A Great Experience For Swiatek

Simona Halep (photo: Cedric Lecocq / FFT)

PARIS, June 3, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

After reaching the second week of Roland Garros, 104th-ranked Polish teenager Iga Swiatek earned the unenviable task of facing defending champion and No. 3 seed Simona Halep. And guess what? Swiatek revealed during a recent press conference, “Playing against Halep is one of my dreams. I have nothing to lose, so no pressure or anything.

“It’s a great experience, all of it. Even losing would be nice,” Swiatek said, with a hint of laughter in her voice.

Which is exactly what happened. Swiatek lost to the World No. 3 Halep, 6-1, 6-0, in just 45 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier. Halep hit 17 winners, made just five unforced errors, and outpointed her outmatched opponent 52-21. While the statistics may have painted a bleak picture for Swiatek – she won just 11 points on her serve and was broken seven times by Halep – it was the experience of playing on the biggest show court at Roland Garros, and against a great champion, that she’ll always remember.

“Well, obviously it’s different playing Simona and watching her on TV,” said Swiatek after the match. “So, I finally got a chance to feel her game.”

In describing Swiatek’s mindset, Halep said, “When you face someone that is higher-ranked than you, you don’t have, you know, fear. You just go and want to show your best tennis.”

Halep was asked if there was any part of her that felt bad about the final result. She replied, “I can’t say I feel bad, because I played my best tennis. I prefer to play like that. (Iga) needs many matches on those courts. She needs time. But for sure, she will be high because at 18, if you’re playing fourth round of a Grand Slam, that means a lot. She will be all right after this.”

So, just who is Iga Swiatek? Well, she’s an 18-year-old high school student from Warsaw, Poland, whose birthday fell during the first week of the Paris fortnight. She loves Pink Floyd music (among her favorite songs are “Learning to Fly” and “Comfortably Numb”) and enjoys watching “The Office.” Less than a year ago, Swiatek won the Wimbledon girls’ title. Now, she’s one of three teens – along with Marketa Vondrousova, 19, and Amanda Anisimova, 17 – who reached the the round of 16 at Roland Garros. Pretty good for someone ranked outside the Top 100 and playing in just her second major main draw – not to mention while trying to juggle her school homework.

“I’m in private school so the teachers are helpful but usually after tournaments when I come back home I have to catch up,” Swiatek revealed after winning her third-round match against Monica Puig. “I need a few days and nights to do it, so it’s kind of hard. It’s also hard to focus only on tennis and practice 100 percent. I still have one more year so I guess I’m doing well.”

Thanks to her win against the 2016 Olympic champion Puig, which came a round after she upset No. 16 seed Wang Qiang, it meant a leap of 40 spots to No. 64 in the provisional WTA rankings. It didn’t matter that she lost to Halep.

Meanwhile, in the quarterfinal round on Wednesday, Halep will face another teenager in Anisimova from the United States. “I feel old, very old,” said Halep (smiling). “To play against someone 10 years younger than me, that’s not easy. But I feel stronger on court. They’re young, they have nothing to lose.”

In a match originally scheduled for Court Suzanne Lenglen but pushed to Court Simonne Mathieu to ensure it would finish before darkness, Anisimova moved into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova.

Playing poised and in control – and effectively striking the ball early – throughout the entirety of her 69-minute match, the 2017 Roland Garros junior finalist Anisimova hit three aces and connected on 33 winners against the 137th-ranked Bolsova, who was playing in her seventh match (four in the main draw and three in qualifying). The American saved all eight break poin.ts she faced while Bolsova was broken four times.

“I was a bit nervous, but when I was about to step on court I was able to push my nerves aside,” said Anisimova following her win. “I think that really helped me, because I was just taking my time during the match and kind of, like, was making effortless shots. So, I’m really happy about that … playing kind relaxed even though I was nervous before the match.”

Anisimova told Tennis Channel, “I’m extremely happy I’m into the second week. I’m happy I get to keep playing in front of the French crowds. It’s amazing.”

Bolsova, who was appearing in her Grand Slam main draw debut, had not dropped a set in her three main-draw matches leading up to Monday evening’s match against Anisimova. Despite losing, which ended her six-match winning streak, Bolsova’s new ranking after the French Open will elevate her into the Top 100 at No. 88.

“I just wanted to leave my first Roland Garros as a professional, to try to go through the qualies and, suddenly, I’m playing the fourth round here. I won six matches,” said Bolsova.

“Today was not my best today, and she played unbelievable. But still, I mean, if I’m sad, I’m not being fair with myself. I just did so many good things. So, I need to stick to that.”

Thanks to her win, Anisimova became the third American woman in the women’s final eight, joining No. 7 seed and last year’s finalist Sloane Stephens and No. 14 seed Madison Keys. Anisimova and Keys could meet in the semifinals if they both win their respective quarterfinal matches on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Stephens will face No. 26 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, which begins play on Court Philippe Chatrier at 2 p.m.

Around Roland Garros

• The dream doubles team of Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty, who lifted the trophy at the Italian Open last month, lost in the third round to No. 5 seeds Samantha Stosur of Australia and Zhang Shuai from China, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, on Monday afternoon. Azarenka from Belarus and Barty of Australia came in seeded 11th and had proven to be a formidable team, taking advantage of their singles prowess. Earlier in the day, Barty beat Sofia Kenin of the United States to reach the quarterfinal round in the singles draw.

Stosur and Zhang advanced to face the No. 2 seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France, the highest remaining seeds, in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

• In mixed doubles, No. 1 seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Bruno Soares of Brazil advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over the No. 7 seeds Alicja Rosolska of Poland and Nikola Mektic of Croatia.

By the numbers

The last time three teens reached the fourth round at Roland Garros was in 2008. The teens? None other than Victoria Azarenka (18), Petra Kvitova (18), and Agnieszka Radwanska (19).