Iga Swiatek, the World No 1 who has been unbeaten since February, found herself in big trouble on Monday in Paris against Zheng Qinwen, a 19-year old Chinese, but the Pole found her way through into the French Open quarter-finals after dropping only her second set in the last 46 she has played during her run of 32 consecutive matches won.
She’s [Zheng] playing amazing tennis. I’ve never had a chance to play her, and I was surprised by some of her shots. Her topspin is amazing, huge congrats to her, it’s a huge tournament, it’s a good result. I’m pretty happy I could come back after a pretty frustrating first set, when I held the lead, proud of myself that I’m still in the tournament. Iga Swiatek
Three of the 4 women’s matches also went the distance, with only Daria Kasatkina winning in straight sets against Camilla Giorgi, while Jessica Pegula and Veronika Kudermetova both came for a set down to get past Irina-Camilia Begu and Madison Keys respectively.
Swiatek’s winning streak survived a major scare as she dropped her first set in more than a month against Zheng before pulling out the win, 6-7(5) 6-0 6-2, on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
“I felt, like, I was a little bit in trouble,” admitted Swiatek, who turns 21 on Tuesday. “I was able to come back and really refocus, and find other solutions, so that’s great.
“I tried to loosen up my hand a little bit. She played really good tennis with heavy topspins.
“The key in the second set was, kind of, not letting her do that again. I’m pretty happy that I could play a little bit faster and put pressure on her.”
Swiatek last lost a set on 23 April, when she went the distance against Liudmila Samsonova in the semi-finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
On this occasion, it was Zheng who pushed her hard in an opening set that lasted a staggering 82 minutes as the teenager saved 5 set points, and rallied from 2-5 down in both the set as well as the tiebreak to win it.
With a big forehand and a backhand reminiscent of Li Na, China’s first and only Grand Slam singles champion, Zheng forced 2 break points in the opening game, but Swiatek saved them both, the first with a thunderous forehand winner, and then broke in the next game before holding again to lead 3-0.
Zheng, ranked 74 and the Chinese No 2, is unseeded in Paris, but the rising talent felled Simona Halep, the 2018 champion, earlier in the week.
Now based in Florida while spending time training in Spain, Zheng’s clay-court prowess was obvious from the start as she pressed Swiatek when the Pole moved ahead, twice, with a break, only for the Chinese to recover both, before denying the top seed 3 set points in the 9th game, and 2 more in the 12th.
Even after missing out on 5 set points, Swiatek had the chance to take the set as she went 5-2 up in the breaker, but she then suffered a collapse as Zheng strung the next 5 points together and stole the opener.
The 19-year old looked on track for a major upset at the sit-down, as Swiatek left the court clutching a notebook for a toilet break.
On her return, the World No 1 was transformed from the rattled player of the first set into the focused adversary that has kept opponents at bay during her winning streak.
Swiatek took control and quickly went up 3-0 in the second set, when Zheng took a medical time out, having her back massaged before going off court for more treatment, and returning with her right thigh strapped.
“Yeah, the leg was also tough,” said Zheng later. “That, compared to the stomach, was easy. I cannot play my tennis, [my] stomach was too painful.
“It’s just girls things, you know. The first day is always so tough and then I have to do sport, and I always have so much pain in the first day. And I couldn’t go against my nature.
“I wish I can be a man on court, but I cannot in that moment… I really wish I can be [a] man [so] that I don’t have to suffer from this.”
The injury changed everything, and Swiatek raced through the rest of the set for her 15th bagel of the year.
Zheng then ripped off the strapping from her leg in the opening game of the decider, and was broken early before steading herself to hang in well until 4-2, when a double-fault gave Swiatek a 2nd break, and the Pole made no mistake as she served out for victory.
Maintaining her focus, Swiatek had won 8 consecutive games, and also navigated a more free-flowing Zheng’s last stand in the 3rd set, saving 2 break points which would have seen the World No 74 level at 2-2.
Carving out a double break in the decider against her tiring opponent, whose physical problems contributed to her 46 unforced errors, Swiatek restored order after 2 hours and 45-minutes, extending her winning streak to 32 matches, which equals the 3rd best winning streak this century set by Justine Henin 14 years ago.
“She’s [Zheng] playing amazing tennis,” said Swiatek after reaching the quarter-finals for a 3rd successive year. “I’ve never had a chance to play her, and I was surprised by some of her shots.
“Her topspin is amazing, huge congrats to her, it’s a huge tournament, it’s a good result.
“I’m pretty happy I could come back after a pretty frustrating first set, when I held the lead, proud of myself that I’m still in the tournament.”
As for Zheng, she told reporters: “I’m happy with my performance all this run. To play against the No 1 in the world, I feel really I enjoy on the court.
“If I don’t have my stomach, I think I could enjoy more, like to run better, and to hit more harder, to give more effort on court.
“It’s pity that I couldn’t give that what I want to give today. I just want, the next time I play against her, I have perfect shape and go for the next fight.”
A relieved Swiatek will next face 11th-seeded Pegula, who had to dig deep to get past Begu: “[I’ll take it] the same as any other match, honestly,” the Pole said.
“Quarter-final is such a stressful round, hopefully, I’m going to be able to play my game.
“I know how Jessica can play, she’s a had a great season, I know how dangerous she can be.”
One of 3 Americans in the quarter-finals, Pegula rallied past Begu, 4-6 6-2 6-3, to reach the Last 8 in Paris for the first time.
Begu, a 31-year-old from Romania ranked 63, was fined $10,000 earlier during the tournament after she threw her racket, which bounced into the stands and brushed past a child, who started to cry.
Pegula trailed by a break for much of the first set but, after losing it, she never fell behind again on her way to securing her 2 hour, 8-minute win.
Having never taken a set off the Romanian before, Pegula broke Begu’s serve in the 4th game of the second and third sets to take leads she never relinquished.
The American, whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in 2021 and 2022, while best prior result in Paris was a 3rd round showing last year.
This year, she did not lose a set in her first 3 rounds to break new ground, but dropped her serve twice against Begu to fall behind.
In the quarters, the 26-year old joins compatriots Coco Gauff and Sloane Stephens, who face each other on Tuesday.
Two neutral players also are vying for a place in the semi-final, with 29th seed Veronika Kudermetova and 20th seed Daria Kasatkina to meet each other on Wednesday.
Both Russian, they can only compete as neutrals as part of the sporting sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Kudermetova upset 22nd seed Keys of the United States, 1-6 6-3 6-1, ending the chances of 4 American women reaching the Last 8 at the French Open for the first time in two decades, and making it into a Grand Slam singles quarter-final for the first time, while Kasatkina defeated Italian 28th seed Giorgi, 6-2 6-2, to seal her spot in the Last 8, matching her best result at the French Open.
A free-swinging Keys, renowned for her formidable, heavy strikes, initially was on song and took a lop-sided 33-minute opening set, clocking 10 winners to Kudermetova’s 3, and proving more effective at landing and winning her first serves, dropping just 3 points when she found the mark.
Kudermetova’s increasing ability to read the Keys serve was a crucial factor in her come-back, although a flurry of Keys forehand errors gave her the first opening to break for 2-0 in the second.
That early break proved the turning point, as Kudermetova worked her way into contention and levelled the match.
Keys leaked unforced errors off her forehand wing early in the deciding set, too, as she was broken in the opening game, and her body language was decidedly down as she conceded the double break.
With former World No 1 Lindsay Davenport back in Keys’ corner on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Keys determined it was all or nothing and plucked off 3 stinging baseline winners to pull back one break, but it was only a temporary reprieve as Kudermetova immediately steadied and set about reimposing control.
She never ceded momentum again, and closed out the clash on another break for a showdown with 20th seeded Kasatkina after an hour and 41 minutes.
“I tried to trust myself. I tried to believe. I tried to fight, I think that was the key,” Kudermetova said “Sometimes to keep playing harder or sometimes to play with spin, a little bit smarter.
“I think I did a really good job today. It’s amazing, it’s amazing. I can say only this.”
Kasatkina dropped just 4 games against Giorgi, continuing her ruthless form at Roland Garros by defeating the No 28 seed in 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach her 3rd major quarter-final.
Giorgi was at the centre of a controversy on Saturday over the appearance of a logo on the front of her dress promoting the kitchen appliance company, DeLonghi.
The umpire took issue with the size of the logo and asked her to change her outfit, prompting Giorgi to retort: “I don’t have any change, this is my only dress. I played with it before.”
Unfazed, the World No 30 had gone on to upset Aryna Sabalenka, the 7th seed, but for her match on Monday against Kasatkina, she had transferred the DeLonghi logo to the sleeve of her dress.
Kasatkina, a former World No 10, has yet to drop a set here, and has conceded just 14 games in 4 matches so far.
A classic stylistic contrast saw Kasatkina’s canny counter-punching smother Giorgi’s all-out aggression.
Giorgi drew gasps with several of her 29 winners, with the 30-year-old’s drive volley particularly impressive, but she also racked up 37 unforced errors as she attempted in vain to hit through Kasatkina, who kept a tighter ship with 16 winners and only 10 miscues.
Seven extended deuce games could have swung either way, but Kasatkina pocketed 6 of them, including all 4 in the first set.
“If we talk about me changing in the past six years, honestly I don’t remember myself six years ago,” Kasatkina said afterwards. “But watching the matches from the past I can see that I’m making a bit better decisions in the important moments.
“Physically, I think I become better, I’m improving, I’m working a lot. So I think from my point of view this is the main changes.”
Both born in 1997, Kasatkina and Kudermetova have risen through every level of competition together.
Kudermetova won their first encounter, winning 6-7(6) 6-3 6-3 in a 2010 U14 event in Moscow, but Kasatkina turned the rivalry around emphatically, taking their sole U16 match, all 3 junior meetings and their only pro clash, 1-6 6-1 6-2, in the 2021 St. Petersburg quarter-finals.
This will be the first time they square off on clay.