Iga Swiatek found her way past Czech 10th seed Marketa Vondrousova to reach the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Friday, where she will meet Coco Gauff, but not without controversy as the World No 1 had a bit of a spat with umpire Marija Cicak.
I respect Marija Cicak, she's a great umpire. But overall she's really strict with the rules and she's applying them always, looking at even, like, one second and everything. Yeah, last two games, we played some longer rallies so I felt, like, I need time to just catch my breath, but Marketa didn't really let me do that... the rule is actually that the time is for her... I'm human, I need to breathe, you know. Iga Świątek
The 22-year old Pole emerged the 7-6(3) 6-1 winner after trailing the Wimbledon champion and Olympic silver medallist for much of the first set, and having to raise her game at key moments.
“It wasn’t easy to adjust to her spin because she’s a lefty,” the reigning French and US Open said during her on-court interview. “She really used that, and her experience, for sure, but I really wanted to be determined and fight for every ball, and in the end this is what worked.
“I’m really happy with my performance. At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to get used to her lefty spin, but I’m happy that I, kind of, played better and better throughout the whole match. At the end, I was really solid.”
Swiatek came from 3-5 down as Vondrousova dominated much of the opener and did not face a break point in her first 4 service games before she cracked when serving for the set at 5-4, coughing up 2 double-faults en route to being broken to love.
In fact, the Czech served for the set twice, after breaking Swiatek again in the 11th game, but she never reached set point.
“When she was serving on 5-4, I felt, like, I have space to kind of push, and to get back to the game, and break back,” Swiatek said later. “I did that. I’m happy that I … made good decisions and chose the right solutions to win these points.
“I think she also, kind of, made some mistakes. I think the most important is to use your opportunity, and I’m happy that I did that.
“In the tiebreaker, any point matter. I’m happy that I could, kind of, focus a little bit more. I already know what I have to play after these games that we played. I learned my lesson. I think I was more efficient.”
Vondrousova enjoyed the ideal start and dropped only 3 points on her serve by the time she had built her 5-3 lead, but she was denied both times by Swiatek before the Pole ran away with the breaker, and then took control of the second set, feasting on the Czech’s serve and breaking her 3 times, including in the final game where she sealed the win with a forehand down the line that the World No 10 was unable to chase down.
“I tried to learn from that first set, and, in the second set, I knew exactly what to do, and I think that’s why it was such a good performance,” Swiatek added.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Pole, though, as she received a rare time violation in the second set.
At one point the Croatian umpire had asked Swiatek to play after the Pole raised her arms, pointing to fans walking outside the the stadium.
“Iga, those people walking around is fine, as long as they are not coming down the rest is fine,” she said. “I know but, we need to play, we cannot stop for one person.”
After a rather cool handshake from Vondrousova, Swiatek had a brief clash with umpire Marija Cicak at the end of the match.
“It is not your time” Cicak said. “You were stood there for another five to seven seconds for no reason and you can at least turn around.”
Asked about the incident in her post-match press conference, Swiatek explained: “No, no, I wouldn’t say ‘tension’. I respect Marija Cicak, she’s a great umpire. But overall she’s really strict with the rules and she’s applying them always, looking at even, like, one second and everything.
“Yeah, last two games, we played some longer rallies so I felt, like, I need time to just catch my breath, but Marketa didn’t really let me do that. We have, what, 23 or 25 seconds?”
Vondrousova had been pushing for quick turn-arounds between the points, effectively hustling Swiatek, who was using the full time allocation.
The rules, however, call for the receiver to be ready when the server is ready, but as the clock struck zero, Swiatek was awarded the time violation.
“She was always ready when there was still 20 seconds,” Swiatek added. “I’m using that break to get ready for the next point. Here, I didn’t really have time, so I wanted to kind of steal a few seconds for myself. I’ll be honest with you. I was always… the rule is actually that the time is for her.
”When she’s ready, I have to be ready. Like, she was ready really fast, you know? I mean, I just told Marija Cicak that I’m human, I need to breathe, you know.”
Swiatek also commented on the unusually large number of retirements this year in Cincinnati, with the combined men’s and women’s event seeing Holger Rune, Elena Rybakina, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Donna Vekic, Mackenzie McDonald, Dusan Lajovic and Marie Bouzkova abandoning their matches midway.
“I think it’s harder and harder,” Swiatek said. “Tournaments, if they are longer, we have less time in between tournaments to recover. I think it’s going to be pretty extreme next year if all the 1000 tournaments are going to be like almost two weeks.
“So I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s a sign for WTA and ATP to, kind of, take it easy on us.
“On the other side, there’s business that they need to take care of, [but] our season is actually going to get longer. I guess we are the ones that should be kind of responsible and know when to take a break and not really push because it’s a race, and it’s a pretty long one.
“We have to be smart, and your team has to be smart, to make the right decisions,” she added.
Meanwhile, Swiatek, who broke the Czech 5 times and saved 4 of 6 break points to seal the win in 91 minutes, is now 2-0 against Vondrousova all-time, having also beaten her in straight sets on the way to the title at Roland Garros in 2020.
Winning her 6th Top 10 win of 2023, Swiatek now leads the Hologic WTA Tour after breaking her tie with Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka, and it puts her into her 10th semi-final of the year.
For a spot in the final, Swiatek takes on No 7 seed Coco Gauff, after the American downed Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, 6-3 6-2, later in the day.
Gauff has yet to drop a set in Cincinnati and improved to 2-0 against Paolini with her quarter-final win on Friday.
The American finished the match with 3 more winners and 2 fewer unforced errors than the 27-year-old Italian, while Gauff also had 14 break points in the match, converting on 6 of them.
Paolini broke the American’s opening service games in both sets, but Gauff rapidly stormed back into the lead on each occasion.
In the second set, Gauff made frequent successful forays to the net, and she reeled off the last 6 games of the match to claim her semi-final spot against Swiatek.
The 19-year old, who picked up the biggest title of her career in Washington earlier this month, hit her stride to sweep the final 8 games of the brisk, 1 hour 13 minute match.
“Really happy with how I was able to play today,” Gauff said, after her win. “She’s not an easy opponent. Last time I played her we had a long three-set match. So I’m happy to get it in in straight sets today.”
After her 3 straight-sets wins this week, Gauff is into the third WTA 1000 semi-final of her career, having previously finished as a semi-finalist at Rome in 2021 and in Dubai earlier this year.
She also becomes the first teenager to make the Western & Southern Open semi-finals since Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2010, and is the first American teenager to make the Cincy sems since Halle Cioffi in 1988.
Gauff holds a 41-24 win-loss record at WTA 1000 tournaments, with her wins at this level being the most of any player before turning 20 years old.
The American hopes recent improvements to her game will yield better results against the World No 1 on Saturday.
“I don’t have a good track record against [Swiatek],” Gauff told reporters. “I feel like the  French Open match that I played her, even though it was a straight-sets score line, I think I made some improvements against her since the last time I played her.
“I’m just really going to go out there and continue to follow the plan that I’ve been doing in the last couple of my matches. … I do feel a lot more confident going into it tomorrow.
“But she’s not an easy opponent to play, especially against me. I think I really just got to take it point by point and try to stay mentally engaged every ball.”
Gauff has re-tooled her game after a 1st-round loss at Wimbledon, adding longtime coach and analyst Brad Gilbert to her coaching team, which also includes Jarmere Jenkins and Pere Riba.
Swiatek is well aware of Gauff’s adjustments.
“We’ve played plenty of times,” Swiatek said, having not dropped a set in the 14 she has played against the teenager. “You never know what she’s going to come up with. I’ll be ready [to] focus on myself.”