Iga Swiatek begins Wimbledon quest on a high

What’s common between the two reigning singles world No 1s? Neither has gone beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon.

While the banned Russian Daniil Medvedev won’t be at the All England Club at all this year, Poland’s Iga Swiatek will, carrying the kind of form and aura that not many have been able to flaunt in women’s tennis lately.

The 21-year-old is riding an undefeated and unchallenged 35-match streak. That 35th victory not only placed her alongside Venus Williams as the only two women to have sailed the consistency ship that deep this century but also earned her a second Grand Slam at the French Open last month. Swiatek’s 2022 win-loss currently reads a staggering 44-3.

But here’s her deal on grass: 4-4. She has lost as many main draw matches as she has won in her professional career, a stat that not only reflects her unfamiliarity on the greens but also dearth of success compared to other surfaces. Swiatek has been ever-so-polished on the red dirt and ever-so-improving on the hard courts. On grass, the sublime Swiatek show is yet to be screened.

Which is ironic, given her lone junior singles Grand Slam title came at the Wimbledon in 2018 and that she notched up an impressive 80% win-loss record in the juniors on the surface. After she turned pro, however, Swiatek has been patchy on grass. In 2019, she crashed out in the first qualifying round at Eastbourne International and the first round in Birmingham which culminated into an opening-round exit at Wimbledon. The grass swing and the Wimbledon wiped off due to the pandemic in 2020, Swiatek entered the 2021 season as a French Open champion. Swiatek lost in the second round in Eastbourne last year and, entering SW19 as the world No 9, in the fourth round to 21st seed Ons Jabeur.

Come next week and Swiatek will take to Centre Court fresh off her triumph at Roland Garros but without having played a single tune-up tournament on grass, preferring to rest and train.

“My coach believes I can win more matches on grass. I don’t know about that yet. But I would like to add like one or two,” Swiatek said after winning in Paris last month. “But honestly, grass is always tricky. I actually like the part that I have no expectations there. It’s something kind of refreshing.”

No expectations? Swiatek is the top seed at this Wimbledon—the youngest since Caroline Wozniacki in 2011—and the two past Grand Slam champions have been women with that honour (Ash Barty in Australia and Swiatek in Paris). The Pole has won her past six tournaments, three each on hard and clay courts while not losing a match since February.

Vijay Amritraj—the legendary Indian who knows a thing or two about winning on grass and is a two-time Wimbledon singles quarter-finalist—believes with that kind of form behind her, Swiatek will be the woman to beat in London especially if she gets through the first week.

“When someone has been playing this well for the first six months of the year—she has been nothing short of awesome, her results remarkable—I don’t think grass or clay is going to make any big difference to her at this point,” Amritraj told this paper. “She just has to get her feet wet, so to speak, on grass and get past the first couple of rounds. I think the best time to catch her is in that early part of the draw. But if she gets going and gets into the second week, I think she’ll be hard to stop. She will have to be the favourite coming into it.”

One of the reasons Swiatek—as indeed many other top players historically—has found the going tough at Wimbledon is its quick turnaround from the French Open; no woman since Serena Williams in 2015 has done the French Open-Wimbledon double. The other is the Pole’s game style; brutally effective from the baseline while getting on top of the bounce of the ball and working with topspin and angles to build and win points. All of that gets negated on grass, where the bounce is lower and courts much quicker than clay.

“Iga will have to use slightly different directions when hitting the ball, as well as in the serve. She has the best kick-serve in the world, but it doesn’t always work on grass,” her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. “We will only try to make small modifications that should make her life easier on this surface. Iga has enough strengths to also win on grass.”

And for Swiatek, there could be no better time to do that than the ongoing rousing run.

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