The Continuing Education of Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek (photo: James Elsby/Tennis Australia)

ADELAIDE/WASHINGTON, February 23, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Usually, the week after a Grand Slam is when Iga Swiatek returns home to Warsaw, Poland, to rest and recover from an intense time of competition. It’s what she did after her unlikely championship run that culminated in winning the French Open last October, Swiatek’s first Grand Slam triumph. However, this time, circumstances of competing in the midst of a pandemic Down Under coupled with Swiatek’s desire to play more changed all of that.

After Swiatek lost in three sets to then-World No. 2 Simona Halep in the fourth round of the Australian Open in Melbourne last week, the 19-year-old decided to change her routine. After all, as Swiatek continues growing up, she wants to be ready to be able to play week after week.

“I’m really excited,” Swiatek conveyed during Monday’s Media Day for the Adelaide International. “And actually, that’s the first time after a Grand Slam that I’m not like exhausted, so I’m looking forward to my first match.”

Swiatek is seeded fifth in this week’s WTA 500-series event in South Australia , an outdoor hardcourt event at Memorial Drive in Adelaide that includes World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty as well as six of the current Top 20 players in the world.

On Tuesday afternoon, the 17th-ranked Swiatek advanced over No. 85 Madison Brengle of the United States, 6-3, 6-4, in a first-round match on Memorial Drive’s Centre Court. Next, she will play 133rd-ranked Australian qualifier Maddison Inglis, who defeated wild card Samantha Stosur of Australia, ranked 112th, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4. A possible clash with the top-seeded Barty looms in the quarterfinal round for Swiatek.

Although Swiatek struggled at times to effectively place her first serve in play against Brengle, and ultimate won points on just 53 percent (16 of 30) of her first serves, it was her second serve that proved to be a more potent weapon. It had a 67 percent (18 of 27) efficiency rate. Although Swiatek was broken three times, she broke Brengle five different times in nine opportunities during the 73-minute match and outpointed her opponent 67-53.

“Madison is the kind of player who uses her opponent’s power, so I had to stay cool,” Swiatek admitted during an on-court interview following her victory. “I tried to calm myself down, stay low in the legs, and sometimes play longer rallies to get in the rhythm, because the first round is always tough at any tournament.”

Swiatek was asked earlier this week if there’s anyone she hasn’t faced that she would like to play for the first time. Her answer might surprise you. “Actually, I wish I could play against Garbiñe Muguruza,” she said.

“I mean it would be a really tough match, but we played some practices and, yeah, I just, I would like to know how things would look against her, because she’s playing [a] really solid game and … she can play fast; she can play top spin and slower and faster. So, I would have to like adjust during the match That would be hard for me, but I would [like to] play against her.

“And against Serena, obviously. I mean if I win with Simona, I would have [had] a chance, but I kind of wasted it. So, hopefully, I’m going to play her someday.”

After her elimination from the Australian Open, instead of a post-Slam letdown, Swiatek said she and her team analyzed her loss to Halep – and learned from it – but there hasn’t been any pressure “because I feel like I’m playing good tennis.

“And, yeah, I mean, I am probably going to play a lot of tournaments this year. So, I don’t need to hurry and win right now. I just want to enjoy being on court and we’re basically working on some details.”

When Swiatek was asked how she would characterize the start of her 2021 season, she offered a positive assessment. “I would say it’s successful because I know how hard this pre-season was for me and how my situation changed,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of like calm time during my pre-season; it was so hectic, and, yeah, knowing that I feel pretty happy with my performance.

“Obviously, after winning a Grand Slam, you want more than first round. But I played against Simona, and as I said, I played my best tennis. So, I’m happy.”

Around Memorial Drive 

Elsewhere Tuesday, the remainder of the first round took place on the Memorial Drive Centre Court and outer Show Court 1. No. 6 seed Petra Martic of Croatia was pushed to three sets before defeating qualifier Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 4-6, 6-0, 7-5, winning eight of the final 10 points.

Next, Martic will face Coco Gauff of the United States, who advanced over Jasmine Paolini of Italy, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-2, after squandering a match point at 5-4 in the second set.

Meanwhile, Australian qualifier Storm Sanders, ranked No. 292, beat 72nd-ranked wild card Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-1, 6-2, in 59 minutes for her first WTA 500 main draw victory and third career Top 100 win. Next, she will oppose 28th-ranked Yulia Putintseva. The No 7 seed from Kazakhstan bested No. 49 Laura Siegemund of Germany, 6-4, 6-4.

“I never had such a tough opponent who was trying to do everything possible to win the match,” said Putintseva, quoted by the WTA website. “She was doing everything on court – slicing, drop shots, coming to the net. So, I was mentally ready for no rhythm at all. I was just trying to move my feet as fast as I can and to find the right shot to finish it.”

Also, No. 58 Jil Teichmann of Switzerland advanced over No. 52 Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-2, 7-6 (5), to set up a second-round match against No 8 seed Wang Qiang, and 87th-ranked lucky loser Misaki Doi of Japan beat No. 63 Anna Blinkova of Russia, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-2, to advance against No. 2 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

Finally, No. 57 Shelby Rogers of the United States became the first to reach the quarterfinals following her 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 3 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, in one hour and 13 minutes. Rogers hit 23 winners and saved all three break points she faced against Konta, who was playing for the first time since retiring against Kaja Juvan of Slovenia with an abdominal injury two weeks ago in the first round of the Australian Open.

Tuesday’s Adelaide International results

Wednesday’s Adelaide International order of play

What they’re saying

Iga Swiatek spoke after her first-round victory against Madison Brengle on what it’s like to be a Grand Slam champion:

• No. 2 seed Belinda Bencic, who bowed in the third round of the Australian Open to Elise Mertens earlier this month, spoke on the importance of getting match play at the start of the season during her Media Day session on Monday:

“I definitely crave match play. I definitely need to get in that rhythm of match play and of like tournaments. So, now we have many tournaments in a row. It’s also because we can’t home right now. At home [in Switzerland], it’s 14-days quarantine. So, I’m kind of stuck on the road. So, I just got to play every tournament I can because I have no other choice. It’s definitely what I need right now. Of course, I need practice as well, but I definitely need those matches and definitely need to get in the rhythm also mentally, like match thinking. You just get in the zone in the court if you are playing a lot.”