Six short years ago, Iga Swiatek arrived on the clay courts of Budapest for the Junior Fed Cup and in her first match she stared down the court at a Canadian opponent called Bianca Andreescu. As she won in three tough sets, it would be one of the formative results of Swiatek’s junior career, a win that imbued her with the belief that she could take on players from the bigger, more famous tennis nations. She finished the week by leading Poland to the title.
It has been a long journey for both players since, and in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open, their paths finally crossed in singles competition for a second time, now as grand slam champions who have watched each other from afar with immense mutual respect. This matchup may one day stand as a defining rivalry of the era, but for now this is Swiatek’s time. After a bruising opening set, Swiatek efficiently separated herself as she breezed to an incredible 26th consecutive victory, defeating Andreescu 7-6(2), 6-0.
“I feel like every match I’m playing better and better,” Swiatek said. “Even though the first set was pretty tight, I had some ups and downs, I feel like I could play well in important moments and break back anytime.”
The opening set was tense, filled with high-octane exchanges as both players tried to smother the other’s second serve while looking to control the baseline. From early on, Swiatek challenged Andreescu to keep up with her intensity, athleticism and ball-striking. She established a 5-3 lead thanks to her superior movement, her backhand reeling off down-the-line winners and by cleaning up all short balls.
Although still adjusting to such intensity so soon into her return, Andreescu slowly grew into the match and she fought desperately. She played her clearest spell of attacking tennis with her back to the wall, breaking Swiatek as she served for the set and then holding a break point at 5-5.
But Swiatek’s confidence is stratospheric and she was present for all of the big points, arresting Andreescu’s momentum and then playing a flawless tie-break. Like in so many of her recent matches, Swiatek opened her shoulders and relaxed in the second set, the match swiftly falling away like so many of the 25 before them.
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