Who can stop Iga Swiatek?
It’s the problem the rest of the WTA Tour have been trying to solve for the last few months. Swiatek has won her last 28 matches in a row, scooping up five titles, and heads to the French Open as the overwhelming favourite. Such is her dominance that former world No. 1 Andy Roddick says it reminds him of Rafael Nadal’s prime years on clay.
“She feels like Rafa felt during a lot of the years of his successes,” Roddick told the Tennis Channel.
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“These are great players that she is making looking ordinary with what she is able to do.
“She has confidence. It’s little things like making every first serve return, getting the patterns you want consistently, you know you can open up the shoulders up on the forehand side and you can pin people into the backhand corner on the backhand side.
"It’s not even a matter of if you are going to play well, you know you are going to play well and you are going to make someone have to play extraordinary to even have a shot against you. I had that for maybe two months in my career, she has it in spades right now. She is in total control of all aspects of her game.”
Swiatek made her breakthrough at the 2020 French Open, powering to her maiden Grand Slam title without dropping a set. Although she didn’t defend her title last year – losing to Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals - Roddick thinks she is in an excellent position this time around.
“She is a different player, can has more variety, she didn’t have this gear of all-out aggression last year, she wasn’t mixing in the drop shots, she is a better player than the player that I thought was going to roll through Roland-Garros last year. I don’t see anyone stopping her at Roland Garros.”
The last player to stop Swiatek was Jelena Ostapenko in Dubai in February. The only other two players to beat her this season are former world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and Danielle Collins.
Her 28-match winning run is made up of seven top-10 wins, including beating world No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets on three occasions, and she has lost an average of 5.36 games per match. Swiatek has also recorded 13 bagel sets this year (four is the next highest on the WTA Tour) and her record in finals is phenomenal (losing on average less than two games a set in her last eight).
Barty said there was “nobody better” to replace her as No. 1, and that has proven true. Swiatek has taken on the position without breaking stride; if anything it seems to have spurred her on to the dizzying heights she is hitting now.
So who could stop Swiatek? Three players stand out from a competitive French Open field.
Assuming world No. 2 Barbora Krejcikova is not defending her title, considering she hasn’t played since February due to injury, then world No. 3 Paula Badosa is next up. Badosa and Swiatek have met twice, both in 2021, and each managed one win. The pair have practised together several times this year, including at the Italian Open, and Badosa has spoken in glowing terms about the world No. 1.
"Mentally she's different," she said last month. "The way she plays, she has special hands. She has magic. From the middle, she opens the court very easily. She moves amazing.”
Badosa is also a very talented and skilled player, especially on clay. She made the fourth round of the French Open two years ago and the quarter-finals last year. She could be a threat to Swiatek if she gets into a good rhythm in Paris.
Ons Jabeur may have fallen the same way as the previous 27 who played Swiatek in the Italian Open final, but she has shown more than enough over the clay season to suggest she could contend at the French Open. Jabeur won the Madrid Open and was runner-up in Charleston and Rome, and has more match wins on clay this year than any other WTA player (17). She also seems ready to learn from her defeat to Swiatek.
"Iga, mentally she was really good,” she said afterwards. "She was always aggressive, always there. No matter what the score is, always going forward, putting pressure on the other player. That I think is very important. No matter what the score is, you always have to go forward. I noticed so many players with more experience, they play really well on the important points.”
Maria Sakkari may also be in the mix. The world No. 4 looked to be building momentum in Rome as she won her first two matches and was 6-1 5-2 up on Jabeur in the quarter-finals before losing in three sets. That was another crushing loss for Sakkari to go with her semi-final defeat to Krejcikova at last year’s French Open, when she lost after having a match point at 5-3 up in the third set. Can Sakkari bounce back and take the next step in Paris? She has a 3-2 record against Swiatek, including beating her at the 2021 French Open, and may be a contender if she hits her stride.
Maria Sakkari | Tennis | ESP Player Feature
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For anyone to halt Swiatek they will likely have to play an exceptional match. Maybe an out-of-nowhere player like Ostapenko, who is 3-0 against Swiatek but out of form over the last two months, will have their day and score a huge surprise.
Ostapenko went after Swiatek’s serve when she beat her in Dubai in a match that featured 16 breaks of serve. Danielle Collins did the same with great effect at the Australian Open to beat Swiatek, hitting 27 winners, including seven on the return of serve, and winning 86 per cent of points when facing Swiatek's second serve. In Swiatek’s only other defeat this season against Barty it was a high unforced error count (28) that proved decisive.
On clay, only Liudmila Samsonova has come close to beating Swiatek this year. Samsonova pushed Swiatek over three hours in the semi-finals in Stuttgart, snapping her 28-set winning streak and winning more games against her than anybody on clay aside from Emma Raducanu (eight).
There’s no getting away from the fact that Swiatek looks the biggest slam-dunk favourite on the women’s side for some time at the French Open, perhaps since Justine Henin dominated the tournament 15 years ago. There’s a pressure that comes with that – and the status of being top seed at a major for the first time – yet Swiatek appears unfazed.
“I already know that I did some great stuff this season, so I feel like I can just play freely and not think I have to win some tournaments or I have to win some matches or I have to save some points,” she said in Rome.
“This year the pressure that I always put on myself, it’s a little bit lower. For sure the expectations around are higher, but I never had a problem to cut it off and not to think about it.”
If Swiatek triumphs in Paris she would extend her winning streak to 35 matches, which would be the joint-longest this century alongside Venus Williams. It would be a fitting way to cap off a historic first half of the season.
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