New No. 1 Swiatek Ready To Take On All Comers In Stuttgart

Iga Swiatek (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 20, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

When Iga Swiatek arrived for this week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, her first tournament since ascending to the World No. 1 ranking, her first impression of Porsche Arena’s Center Court was a favorable one.

“I love the Porsche Arena site,” Swiatek said. “I have heard a lot about the tournament but was still pretty surprised that everything looks so lovely. As for the court, I still feel like I need two more practices to get used to the surface, but I think I’m ready because the transition from hard court to clay court is pretty quick for me. So, we’re going to see.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Swiatek showed she was more than ready to play. The 20-year-old Polish star won her 20th straight match with an impressive 6-1, 6-1 victory over 342nd-ranked qualifier Eva Lys from Germany. The second match of the day on Center Court was brief and dominating – it lasted just 62 minutes – but it gave Swiatek an opportunity to adjust to the indoor red clay at Porsche Arena. Just as important from the tournament’s perspective, she entertained the crowd and gave them plenty to cheer about.

Swiatek won 68 percent (28 of 41) of her service points and outpointed Lys 61-34, which included hitting 18 winners to 15 unforced errors. She also broke the 20-year-old German’s serve six times in nine opportunities. Meanwhile, Lys finished with just three winners and made 17 unforced errors and converted her only break-point opportunity against Swiatek.

Although Swiatek was hesitant to say during her on-court interview whether she believes she’s playing the best tennis of her career, she did suggest that the winning streak has boosted her confidence level. “The streak is something I’ve wanted to convert into something positive,” she said. “Right now, I feel I can really put pressure on my opponent. That’s a huge privilege. I’ve been working hard to get into that position. I’m happy I can show my consistency.”

The second-round victory by Swiatek over Lys advanced her to Friday’s quarterfinal round, where she awaits Thursday’s winner between 118th-ranked German lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch and No. 8 seed Emma Raducanu of Great Britain.

Earlier this week, Swiatek was asked during her Media Day session with reporters to describe the feeling of being World No. 1, a position she’s earned following last month’s retirement of Ashleigh Barty coupled with her own success of winning three straight WTA 1000 titles, in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami.

“It feels the same as before because the courts are the same, my opponents are the same and I feel like I still have the same goals,” she said. “On the other hand, I feel like people treat me differently and I feel like there is more pressure and more obligations and more jobs to do off court. But on court, I would say that nothing has changed.

“I have the same people I talk to and the same friends that have known me even before I was Top 100. I have that kind of base.”

Swiatek was asked how long she would like to stay ranked No. 1. She replied: “Well, honestly, I’m not thinking about that right now because I’m just focusing on my next match and next goals.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this and it’s pretty hard to know how long I’m going to stay there. My goal is to be as consistent as possible. Just continuing what I was doing is going to help for sure. I first want to focus on my performance.”

Against Lys, Swiatek jumped out to a 5-0 lead and had a set point before her opponent fended it off and held serve. However, Swiatek closed out the first set on her own serve in the very next game. Then, she maintained her calm demeanor after Lys saved a match point and broke Swiatek to win the sixth game. However, it was but a small bump in an otherwise smooth match as Swiatek went about the business of winning to improve her 2022 WTA win-loss record to 29-3, which includes a pair of victories last weekend in the Billie Jean King Cup representing Poland.

Although Wednesday’s match was her first on clay in 315 days, Swiatek admitted that switching surfaces is not the hardest thing for her. “Playing on this surface here is more challenging because I have never played in Stuttgart before and the court is a little slippery,” said Swiatek, who won her first title on clay at the 2020 French Open without dropping a set.

“I know that the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix comes at the right moment between the hard courts [in the United States] and the normal clay. I’m really looking forward to the clay season even when it’s going to be intense and I’ll have to be physically fit.”

Battle between former Stuttgart champions goes to Pliskova

In a battle between former Stuttgart champions and fellow Czech compatriots, No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova came away with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) victory over No. 28 Petra Kvitova despite having fewer total points at the end of the two-hour and 22-minute match that began the day on Center Court inside Porsche Arena. It was Pliskova’s second career win against the two-time Wimbledon champion and the first tie-break she’s won against Kvitova.

Although Kvitova outscored Pliskova 107-100, it proved that it doesn’t matter how many points you win during the match. Winning the last point is what matters the most, which Pliskova did after Kvitova hit a third-shot forehand long on match point. She battled back from being 1-4 down in the final set.

Pliskova fired 13 aces and hit 28 overall winners to 21 unforced errors. She converted five of 11 break points. Kvitova countered with 46 winners but committed 41 unforced errors.

“The first two sets both of us were nervous,” Pliskova said in her on-court interview. “The third set was the best tennis we played. There were some great points.”

The victory for Pliskova, who won the Stuttgart title in 2018, was just her second of the season in five matches in what has been an injury-marred start of the season. However, it was her seventh win in her last 10 against lefties.

Although Kvitova has won five clay titles, including Stuttgart in 2019, it was a rough go against Pliskova. The defeat was her third straight loss this season. Kvitova’s 2022 win-loss record has now dipped under .500 at 9-10.

“[Petra] is a great player. She can hit winners from any position,” Pliskova said. “It was a difficult match; I was down then I was up. I’m proud I played aggressively in the third set. That was the key. I’m super happy to be through. I have some amazing memories from this court. Hopefully, I can bring them back.”

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

• No. 8 Emma Raducanu of Great Britain was impressive in her WTA tour-level clay debut. She needed just 70 minutes to earn at 6-1, 6-2 win over 197th-ranked Australian qualifier Storm Sanders. The 19-year-old reigning US Open champion dominated her opponent on her service game by winning 76 percent (34 of 45) of her first-serve points. The Briton saved the only break point she faced.

Composed throughout, Raducanu hit 17 winners to 14 unforced errors and broke Sanders four times in nine tries. She outpointed her opponent 61-39 to advance to the second round against lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch of Germany.

“Game-wise on clay, especially when you’re playing outside, you definitely need to be more patient and build the point. It however takes a lot more energy and physical demand,” Raducanu said earlier this week. “I think it’s a good lesson for someone who is younger like me to develop more skills and I’m looking forward to spending more time on clay this year.

“I like sliding and moving on the red clay. The conditions here in the Porsche Arena are a little different than to outdoors but I really like them. I think it is going to be a good surface for me. I keep telling everyone around me that one day clay is going to be my surface and I still believe it.”

• After a shaky start, No. 5 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia righted herself against two-time Stuttgart champion (2015-16) Angelique Kerber of Germany and rallied from a set down to win, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and one minute. It was the 21st consecutive indoor victory for the World No. 6 Kontaveit.

Kontaveit struck 37 winners to 24 unforced errors and broke the No. 17 Kerber’s serve four times in 15 tries. She outpointed the three-time major champion 93-92. Kerber wound up with 26 winners and made 30 unforced errors. She broke Kontaveit’s serve four times in seven opportunities.

“I thought she played really well; she was aggressive,” Kontaveit said of Kerber during her on-court interview. “It was the first match on clay as well. It’s always tricky, too. I really felt I found my rhythm a little bit more in the second set. I felt more comfortable with my serve. I just got my match going, somehow.”

Next, Kontaveit will face No. 39 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia in the second round Thursday evening.

• Wild card Laura Siegemund of Germany, who resides in Stuttgart and won the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix singles title in 2017, enjoyed a homecoming in front of friends and family Wednesday evening. The 231st-ranked Siegemund won her first main-draw singles match of the season with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 27 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia in 86 minutes.

Siegemund finished with 26 winners to 18 unforced errors and broke Zidansek’s serve give times in 11 opportunities. She outpointed her opponent 65-50.

Siegemund, who won on her first match-point opportunity when Zidansek sailed a return long, had not won a WTA main-draw match since defeating fellow German Tamara Korpatch at Bad Homburg on grass last June. Next, she will play World No. 5 and fourth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in the second round on Thursday.

“I’m glad I performed really solid today. I stayed composed and played the tough moments well,” Siegemund said during her on-court interview. “I know I can still play on clay.”

• No. 2 doubles seeds Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands are through to the semifinal round after winning their quarterfinal match over Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland and Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2, in 68 minutes. Krawczyk and Schuurs converged three of six break points and outpointed their opponents 58-43.

Three other quarterfinal doubles matches are scheduled for Thursday, including No. 1 seeds Coco Gauff of the United States and Zhang Shuai of China facing Spain’s Paula Badosa and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Wednesday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Thursday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

By the numbers

Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, who has reached three clay-court finals – including Stuttgart in 2019 – has won 21 consecutive matches at indoor tournaments.

“Quotable …”

“For me, it doesn’t feel like I have to carry something. I want to look at it from a positive perspective and I want the streak to give me confidence and give me more motivation and a push. Even if I lose the next match, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s impossible to keep the streak forever. So, I’m ready to put in the really hard work to win the next match.”

– World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek on her 20-match winning streak.