Iga Swiatek, the World No 1 and top seed at the US Open, survived a real scare in New York on Monday when Germany’s Jule Niemeier out-played her for a set and a half before the Pole found a way past her, eventually bagelling the 23-year old to win, 2-6 6-4 6-0, and book a spot in the quarter-finals, where she will play American 8th-seeded Jessica Pegula.
For sure, this match gave me a lot because it’s always nice to come back and, kind of, lean on that, that you can change something, and play better, also make some adjustment during the game. Yeah, I feel more confident every match, but still I’m trying not to get my expectations too high because I know anything can happen. Iga Świątek
“I’m just proud I didn’t lose hope,” Swiatek said. “I’m pretty glad I used my experience. It’s really satisfying.
“This is my first quarter-final in New York, so I am really proud of it.”
It was surprising test from Niemeier, who swept through the opener with breaks in the 1st and 7th games, and then held her nerve in an 8-minute second game of the second set, saving 2 break points.
When the German broke for 2-1, it looked as if a big upset might be on the cards, but Swiatek eventually prevailed, taking the set, which featured 7 breaks of serve in 10 games, to level the match.
In the decider, the Pole raced out to a 4-0 lead with the powerfully-built Niemeier, ranked 108 in the world, only winning 5 points.
Niemeier, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist, had not won a hard court match in her career before coming to New York, where she promptly defeated Sofia Kenin, Yulia Putintseva and Zheng Qinwen on her way to her encounter with Swiatek.
In the error-strewn Last 16 contest played out on Louis Armstrong Stadium, the German impressed with her big serving and aggressive net-rushing game, which caused serious problems early on for the top seed, who dropped a set for the first time at Flushing Meadows this year.
Between them, there were a total of 15 double-faults, 12 breaks of serve and 76 unforced errors in the 2 hours and 23 minute encounter.
Swiatek was broken in the opening game of the match, before handing over another break to go 2-5 down, when Niemeier served the first set out.
The two-time Roland Garros champion looked in huge trouble when she went a break down early in the second, and then the German’s game started to break down.
After an exchange of 4 breaks in a row, the Pole struck the decisive blow at 5-4 up to level the score up at a set all.
Niemeier then struck 14 unforced errors in a rapid deciding set, in which Swiatek displayed the ruthless form that got her through her 3 opening rounds here in straight sets.
Despite her dislike of the balls being used on the north American swing, Swiatek later said that she is feeling better about her chances as she edges closer to finals weekend.
“For sure, this match gave me a lot because it’s always nice to come back and, kind of, lean on that, that you can change something, and play better, also make some adjustment during the game,” the top seed said. “Yeah, I feel more confident every match, but still I’m trying not to get my expectations too high because I know anything can happen.”
Swiatek completed the win with her 19th bagel set of the season, wrapping up a place in her 3rd Grand Slam quarter-final of 2022.
Later, she told reporters that her success has been helped by her walk-on play list, which includes AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam.
“I have been listening to it all year, and I am pretty bored with it,” she admitted with a laugh. “But I am not going to change now!”
Swiatek’s scrappy performance demonstrated her capacity for problem-solving, and she had admitted beforehand: “I don’t know a lot honestly [about Niemeier’s game]. I know she has a pretty nice serve. We never practiced, so I don’t know how it feels on a racket.
“Tactically, I trust my coach that he’s going to prepare well. I know she is really talented. It’s going to be a great battle.”
In the first set, Niemeier took her 2-0 lead by winning 8 of the first 11 points and breaking Swiatek in the opening game, before breaking again to take a 5-2 lead and serve for the set.
After double-faulting on her first set point, Neimeier prevailed on the next to take the set when Swiatek hit a forehand into the net.
In the second, both had such a hard time holding serve, with Niemeier now only putting 47% of her first serves into play and, during the crucial 10th game where she had a chance to even the set at 5 apiece, she coughed up her 9th double-fault of the match, ceding the set to Swiatek.
The 21-year old Pole regained her form in the third, while Niemeier’s first-serve percentage continued to drop all the way down to 37%.
Asked what she was most proud of about the match, in which she made 31 unforced errors to Niemeier’s 45, Swiatek said: “That’s a tough question, honestly. I’m just proud I didn’t lose hope. In the second set, I tried to focus on small things. I’m pretty glad it worked.
“For sure I’m pretty happy that I didn’t give up,” Swiatek added.
Despite the match’s intense physicality, Swiatek said she felt like she out-powered her opponent at the end, and that she was ‘solid’ during the important moments.
In the quarterfinals, Swiatek will face Pegula, a home favourite from Buffalo, New York, who beat two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets earlier in the day.
“I think she has a game style that suits these courts,” Swiatek said of Pegula.
Explaining that her confidence improves with each match, the Pole is still trying to maintain expectations: “I’m just happy that I did a better job than last year, and I’m going to push forward.”
Swiatek leads 2-1 in the head-to-head record against Pegula, having won both of their meetings this year in straight sets, while the American has lost all 3 of her Grand Slam quarter-finals in singles, but she has shown great consistency throughout this season, and will be the World No 1’s biggest threat so far.
When Pegula lost the first 2 games of the second set to Kvitova, it looked like the two-time major champion from the Czech Republic was on the verge of another come-back, but the American prevailed, 6-3 6-2, in an hour 13 minutes.
Kvitova had saved 2 match points in the 3rd-round against Garbiñe Muguruza from Spain, and seemed to be moving in the same direction.
“I just told myself not to get frustrated,” Pegula said later. “I wanted to stay committed to hitting my spots and was able to work my way back.”
She won 6 straight games in a row to defeat the left-handed Czech for the first time.
After breaking Kvitova to open the match, there was an 8-minute delay when rain visited Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After Kvitova broke back and played 3 points on her own serve, the rain returned and, this time, it required 45 minutes to close the roof and mop up the water.
Pegula left the court, did some stretching, and never lost her composure, coming out focused and methodically going to work on Kvitova.
Kvitova is 6 feet tall, 5 inches more than Pegula, while her laser sharp groundstrokes have taken her to two Wimbledon titles, plus she had won their two prior matches.
Right from the start, Pegula’s footwork and court coverage were superb, and when play resumed, the American had changed her racket.
“I got one strung looser, one strung tighter, but I’m weird because the tighter ones tend to feel looser to me,” Pegula explained. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
She ended up with a frame she had had strung the night before at 51 pounds.
While the indoor conditions favoured Kvitova’s flat, penetrating groundstrokes, Pegula was able to match her in most of the rallies, stroke for stroke.
“She didn’t really leave me any space for my shots,” Kvitova lamented later.
Certainly, there were moments when Kvitova took command and, over the course of the match, she struck 18 winners, compared to Pegula’s 7, but the Czech also peppered her play with 24 unforced errors, nearly twice the American’s tally of 13.
“I feel like I’m always on edge playing Petra,” Pegula admitted. “Just because she can hit winners from anywhere, can get really hot and kind of make you feel like crap, I guess, on the court.”
Time and time again, Pegula scampered swiftly and smoothly to track down a Kvitova drive, and then send it back with just as much pace and depth.
Serving at 2-3, 15-40, she escaped, eventually fighting off 3 break points, including one with a 108 mph ace down the T in the deuce court.
From 3-all on, Pegula won 12 of the next 14 points but Kvitova reasserted herself at the start of the second, breaking and holding for 2-0.
“Yeah, I was just, ‘Okay, don’t get frustrated, she hit a couple good shots’,” Pegula reflected. “Stick to your patterns.”
She won then 4 straight points, broke in the next game for 2-2, and took complete control.
On match point Pegula chased down a sharp crosscourt backhand and flashed a forehand back, forcing Kvitova to steer her next backhand wide, paving the way for the American No 1’s first US Open quarter-final appearance, and a meeting with Swiatek.