Cincinnati | Swiatek survives to meet Vondrousova as Pegula and Sakkari fall

Top seed Iga Swiatek navigated past Qinwen Zheng, battling the conditions and enduring online negativity to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Thursday, where she will meet Marketa Vondrousova, while Karolina Muchova upset Maria Sakkari and Ons Jabeur benefitted from a mid-match retirement by Donna Vekic.

Well, today's match wasn't perfect. We all saw that, but the amount of hate and criticism that me and my team get after even losing a set is just ridiculous. I want to encourage people to be more thoughtful when they comment on the Internet. Iga Świątek

Amidst the upsets and retirements, Swiatek, the World No 1, eked out her win after dropping the first set to the talented 20-year old Chinese, 3-6 6-1 6-1, in 2 hours and 10 minutes of play.

Having dropped just a single game against Danielle Collins on Wednesday at the US Open WTA 1000 tune-up event, Swiatek looked unsettled as Zheng jumped out to a 3-0 double-break lead in the windy and humid conditions, playing on the Grandstand court adjacent to the stadium court.

The Chinese No 1 refused to let up as she broke for a third time to grab the first set when the Pole sent her forehand long.

Leaving the court, Swiatek swapped her white outfit for a black one, and reset, returning to cut out her unforced errors from 23 in the opener to just 10 over the next two sets as she delivered a double breadstick to her Chinese opponent.

The 22-year old played with more conviction, firing her ground strokes into the corners and moving forward to put away any stray mid-court balls.

She broke Zheng to love 3 times for a 5-0 lead on her way to forcing the decider, and raced through the final set as she again feasted of Zheng’s serve, breaking twice for another 5-0 lead before closing out the match on her own serve when her opponent sent a forehand long.

“Honestly, it’s because of my coach [Tomasz Wiktorowski],” Swiatek said about her outfit change. “He told me a couple months ago that, after losing a set, it might be a good idea to change your outfit so you can, kind of, reset, and go into the second set in a different vibe.”

Surprised to find that it indeed worked, Swiatek playfully thanked her coach for the suggestion.

“I thought this was bullsh*t but I tried this time and it worked, so thank you coach!” she added with a grin.

Zheng struggled to put her first serves in across the match, succeeding on only 34.9% of them, although she managed to win 70% of those points.

Swiatek’s inability to win points off her second serve also helped Zheng take the first set, who won 13 of 15 points on returning the Pole’s second delivery, while the Chinese player did not lose her serve in the set and converted 3 of 6 break points to gain the upper hand in the match.

The top seed shifted the momentum from the second set onwards as she reined in her shot-making, and won a better margin of points off both her first and second deliveries, especially in the decider.

In the second set, Swiatek could win only 25% of her second-serve points but, in the third set, she upped this to 60%.

Coupled with Zheng’s tactical woes, this helped Swiatek cruise past her opponent with the loss of just 2 games in the last two sets.

“I didn’t cope well with the conditions,” Swiatek admitted later. “They were tricky with the wind. It was loud from the stadium. I took the time to focus on what I had to do. I played more safely. I started working with the wind. I was happy that I was able to problem-solve.”


Dressed in black, Iga Swiatek turned the tide against Qinwen Zheng to advance to her first Cincy quarter-final

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Swiatek also took the opportunity to take issue with some of her followers for making negative social media comments about her match.

“Well, today’s match wasn’t perfect,” she said during an opening statement. “We all saw that, but the amount of hate and criticism that me and my team get after even losing a set is just ridiculous.

“I want to encourage people to be more thoughtful when they comment on the Internet.

“We all sacrifice a lot. We’re all working really hard to be in that place. We’re always giving 100% of what we can do every day. It’s sad for me to see that people I work with and myself, we’re really judged.”

Swiatek said she experienced similar issues following her loss in the Dubai final shortly after claiming the Doha title.

“I was pretty proud of my results, but people really just saw the last match, and that I lost in the final, and they shouldn’t,” Swiatek said. “I’m putting a lot of energy for it not to hit too deeply, but I realised that sometimes people – I don’t know if they’re my fans or not, but they want me to play better – cause me to waste a lot of energy to ignore them.

“I would love for people to see how I problem-solved, and how I really got out of trouble,” she added. “I want to kind of encourage people to be more thoughtful when they comment on the internet.”

World No 5 Ons Jabeur says much of the abuse stems from people who are betting on the sport.

“Honestly, you win, you lose, you get hate messages no matter what you do,” Jabeur said. “We need more humanity, more nice people on this earth but I don’t think you can change the mentality of some bettors.

“They have nothing to do in their life, and they’re spending money on you and, probably, what, they lost a couple of bucks on Iga losing a set.”

Meanwhile, Swiatek has added another endorsement to her impressive portfolio, as the Pole was announced as a global ambassador for the financial corporation, Visa, this week.

The reigning French Open and US Open  champion has been selected as a Team Visa athlete due to her support of local communities and inspiring tennis fans across the globe.

“The world has borne witness to the exceptional talent that Swiatek showcased early in her career, and we are proud to welcome Swiatek to Team Visa and champion all that she stands for,” said Frank Cooper III, Chief Marketing Officer, Visa. “Swiatek is an example of what hard work and dedication can do to achieve your dreams, while inspiring the next generation.”


Lefty Marketa Vondrousova was a straight sets winner over Sloane Stephens and meets Iga Swiatek in the Last 8

© Aaron Doster/Getty Images

Swiatek, who is the first tennis player to be included in Team Visa, takes on Vondrousova in the quarter-finals, after the Czech 10th seed was a 7-5 6-3 winner over American Sloane Stephens in their 3rd-round after after 81 minutes.

Vondrousova is adjusting to her new status as the reigning Wimbledon champion.

“I’m in the Top 10 for the first time, and I don’t have points dropping for a while,” Vondrousova told WTA Insider. “Now I just need as many points as I can get.

“After Wimbledon, I had a week off and then I practiced again. I never felt unmotivated. That was a good thing to have.”

On Thursday, the left-hander converted 4 of 5 break points during her win over former US Open champion Stephens to advance to her first Western & Southern Open quarter-final, and she has yet to drop a set.


Marie Bouzkova (L) dispatched World No 3 Jessica Pegula in a rain-interrupted Last 16 match on Thursday

© Aaron Doster/Getty Images

Two other Czechs turned in the day’s biggest upsets, with the World No 3, Jessica Pegula, ousted by Marie Bouzkova, 6-4 6-0, in an hour and 25 minutes, and Muchova upsetting 8th-seeded Maria Sakkari.

Pegula, champion in Canada last week and winner of a Tour best 27 hard court matches this season, was dumped out in a rain disrupted contest by Bouzkova, who improved her record to 4-2 against the American.

In the second set, Bouzkova converted 3 break points on Pegula’s serve, and won 80% points on return on the American’s second serve.

Muchova picked off her second seeded player in 3 rounds, eliminating Sakkari from Greece, 6-3 2-6 6-3, in an hour 54 minutes in the second meeting between the two players after the French Open first round.

Bouzkova will play her fellow countrywoman Muchova for a place in the semi-finals on Friday.

Meanwhile, 4th-seeded Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and 5th-seeded Tunisian Jabeur advanced when their opponents retired for health reasons.

Rybakina retired in her match against Jasmine Paolini, after the Kazakh had won the first set against the Italian, 6-4, but stopped the match at 2-5 down in the second.

Last year’s Wimbledon champion had looked poised for smooth passage, but retired with an unspecified injury.

Paolini will take on 7th-seeded Coco Gauff, after the American got through another Czech, 18-year old Linda Noskova, 6-4 6-0, in 62 minutes in their 3rd-round encounter later in the day.

Jabeur, the 5th-seeded Tunisian, who led Vekic 5-2 in the first set before the Croatian stopped the match, plays World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka for a Last 4 spot, the Belarusian having won 6-3 6-3 against 14th seed Daria Kasatkina from Russia.


Karolina Muchova upset Maria Sakkari, the 6th seed, in 3 sets and will meet Marie Bouzkova for a place in the semi-finals at Cincy

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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