Paris | Swiatek sweeps into semi-final, Kasatkina next

Iga Swiatek made it 33 matches in a row when she beat Jessica Pegula to line up a crack at her 34th in the semi-final at the French Open, where she will meet Daria Kasatkina on Thursday for a place in the Roland Garros final.

The thing is that I’m trying to get to every ball basically and, yeah, if it was two bounces, then I’m sorry. But at that point I was so focused to just get to the ball and to win the point that I just went forward, you know. These moments are pretty tricky because it’s all on the umpire. But if it was two bounces then I’m sorry, I was just too focused to win the point. Iga Świątek

The World No swept Pegula aside, 6-3 6-2, in just 89 minutes, negating any challenge the American offered to soar into the Last 4 in celebration of her 21st birthday on Tuesday.

“I kind of felt, like, the sky’s the limit for me, so I feel more free right now, I feel, like, I’ve proven myself,” Swiatek told the media later. “A lot has changed in my mind and, for sure, I also realise that I can actually be number one, and really cope with it properly. So that’s pretty cool.”

Swiatek will be playing in her 3rd Grand Slam semi-final, after also making that stage at this year’s Australian Open, but she will have to get past Kasatkina first, before claiming a second Paris title after having won her first Grand Slam here in 2020.

Earlier in the day, Kasatkina, the World No 20, beat Veronika Kudermetova, 6-4 7-6(5) in a contest between two neutral Russians.

Swiatek’s quarter-final with Pegula was by no means plain sailing, despite the quick start as she skipped to the backhand corner to unleash an inside-out forehand winner for an immediate break.

With the Pole racing to 40-0 up, it looked like Pegula, the World No 11, could be another quick victim for the top seed on Court Philippe-Chatrier, but the American dug in, and claimed 5 successive points to break back before an 8-minute hold put the 11th seed on the front foot.

On a sunny afternoon with the temperature above 20 degrees Celsius, Swiatek trailed 2-3 and it was 3-all when she earned a break point while Pegula served.

By now receptive to the awakening challenge, Swiatek produced a glorious cross-court backhand winner moments before sprinkling in some true magic, chasing down a deft Pegula drop-shot and, mid-slide in the split position, angled the ball for a decisive 4-3 break.

“I was like, ‘There’s no freaking way she got that.’ I was like, ‘Seriously?!’” Pegula said at her post match press conference. ”I looked at [the umpire] and he didn’t call it. You can’t say anything. And the problem is, once they make their decision, you can’t go back and change it.”

Pegula later saw on a replay on the scoreboard that the ball, indeed, had landed a second time on Swiatek’s side of the net before going off her racket, and knew the point belonged to her, but the umpire did not pick up on the double bounce, nor is video consultation available at Roland Garros.

From there, Swiatek did not drop another game until she led by a set and 1-0 in the second, in all, taking 10 of the last 12 games.

Later, the World No 1 said she had no idea the ball had bounced twice in her post-match press conference.

“The thing is that I’m trying to get to every ball basically and, yeah, if it was two bounces, then I’m sorry,” she said. “But at that point I was so focused to just get to the ball and to win the point that I just went forward, you know.

“These moments are pretty tricky because it’s all on the umpire. But if it was two bounces then I’m sorry, I was just too focused to win the point.”

By this stage of the match, though, Swiatek was forcing Pegula into going for fine margins, and a brace of forehands narrowly missed their mark to hand the top seed a one-set lead.

Jessica Pegula had her chances but was outplayed by Iga Swiatek in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros on Wenesday

© Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Pegula, competing in her 3rd major quarter-final, and her first on the clay, clattered an inside-in backhand to keep in touch, and a crafty wrong-footing winner off that wing capped a 26-shot rally for a rare break opportunity, but her return miscued and Swiatek escaped to win 3 consecutive games and drive herself into a 4-1 lead.

“You get those few chances and you, kind of, feel it weighing on you, that if you don’t take advantage of it,” Pegula said later. “You’re, like, ‘Shoot, my chance was gone, and now I have to work so hard to either hold serve or get back in this game’ or whatever it was.

“Mentally, that’s also what they [top players] do so well, and what I’ve been trying to do better.”

Converting her 4th match point with a slingshot backhand, Swiatek raised her right arm up to the sky in celebration, winding up with nearly twice as many winners as Pegula, 30 to 16, and impressive on her second serve, winning 16 to 20 (75 per cent) of the points behind it, avoiding the American’s punishing return game, while she made 28 unforced errors and broke Pegula 5 times on her 11 chances.

“For sure, I think it was my most solid match here, so I’m pretty happy with the performance,” she said. “From A to Z, I was pretty focused, and I didn’t let Jessica come back in those sets. I’m pretty happy.”

The only thing she did get wrong was writing her wrong age on the broadcast camera, 22, but the most important number of the day was 33, her successive match wins.

Swiatek is the firm favourite to lift the French Open trophy on Saturday, thanks to the stunning form that took her to win titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome.

“This year it’s a little bit different, because I’m not an underdog,” she said, “and everything has changed, honestly.”

Asked about her pre-match nerves, Swiatek quickly retorted: “Oh yeah, I do, I think if I stop being nervous, something weird is going on, because there are always nerves, but stress can sometimes be a positive thing.

“It can make you more active and intense, so I try to use it that way to get my best performances.”

Pegula, a 28-year old from New York whose parents own the Buffalo Bills’ and are worth $5.8 billion, has earned around $4.3 million in her career, and has had 2 strong runs at 2 majors where, somewhat unluckily, she has now lost to the No 1 player in the world, both Ash Barty and now Swiatek.

“To be honest, she kind of plays like a guy,” Pegula said about Swiatek. “And, I mean that as, Ash, was a similar way, where they don’t play like a typical girl, where they hit, kind of, flat and the ball, kind of, goes through the court.

“She plays a little more unorthodox in the fact that she has, like, a really heavy forehand but, at the same time, she also likes to step in, and take it really early and, I think, clay gives her more time and, I think, it makes her forehand even harder to deal with.”

Pegula is still alive in the doubles, in which she and Coco Gauff, also a singles semi-finalist, prevailed in 3 sets to face their fellow Americans Madison Keys & Taylor Townsend in the semi-finals.

Daria Kasatkina came through 2 tight sets to defeat Veronika Kudermetova and reach her first semi-final at Roland Garros

© Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Swiatek’s next challenger will be Kasatkina, seeded 20, who had a close first set win against Kudermetova, while the second was even closer before prevailing, 6-4 7-6(5).

Both competitors swapped breaks of serve, but Kasatkina remained the calmer throughout, and claimed victory with a drop-shot on her 5th match point, while Kudermetova, who was playing in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, was hindered by 50 unforced errors and also needed a medical time-out when she was down 6-5 in the second set.

“You could see the match was really nervous and tight, especially the tiebreak, but I am happy at the end I won,” Kasatkina said in her on-court interview. “It’s a very important win for me, and I’m happy to be in the semi-final for the first time.

“Dream coming true and everything is fine!”

Beating the 29th seed in her 26th appearance at a major, Kasatkina, a former Top 10 player, earned her first trip to the semi-finals in 2 hours and 8 minutes.

Both Kasatkina and Kudermetova each came into Paris in good form, Kasatkina with 22 match-wins for the season, and Kudermetova reaching 3 finals this year with 20 match-wins in 2022.

Kasatkina dropped only 14 games en route to the quarter-finals, and entered the match with an unblemished history against Kudermetova.

Veronika Kudermetova was hindered by 50 miscues and a medical time-out before bowing out to Daria Kasatkina in Paris

© Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Firing 2 aces in the first game, combined with her power game, led Kudermetova to an early break, but Kasatkina used uncommon depth and pristine placement to pull back level, and she broke for 5-4 after a rally forehand crosscourt winner, then grabbed a gritty hold in the following game to win the opener.

Another tough tussle went Kasatkina’s way when she broke for 2-1 in the second on her 5th break point of that game, and she held that advantage up to 5-4, when she served for the match, but Kudermetova amped up her play there, cracking returns off shorter serves to break back for 5-5.

In the second-set tiebreak, Kasatkina drew errors to build a commanding 6-1 lead when, once again in peril, Kudermetova turned up her aggression, and she swatted away 4 straight match points but, on the 5th, Kasatkina wrapped up a 26-stroke rally with a drop-shot, which Kudermetova returned into the net.

Kasatkina was able to convert only 5 of her 17 break points, but that would still be enough to outpace Kudermetova, who broke serve 4 times and struck 22 more winners than her opponent, but her 50 unforced errors doubled the winner’s 25.

“It was tough to manage because, basically, I wanted to win a lot, and in these moments you feel like the win is slipping out of your hands,” Kasatkina said. “Just happy with the way I stayed on the court and didn’t put myself in the situation where I was like disappointed and stuff.

“So really happy with this mental part of myself.

“It was a roller coaster!” added Kasatkina, who had not reached a major quarter-final in 4 years.

Both Russians will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon later this month because of their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kasatkina won her first clash with Swiatek on the Eastbourne grass last year, but has lost all 3 of their meetings in 2022 in straight sets, without winning more than 5 games in a match, all on hard courts at the Australian Open and in Dubai and Doha.

“We played few times this year, but, okay, I lost those matches, but was a different story,” said Kasatkina. “It was a hard court, beginning of the year, I was not in the same shape as I am now.

“I cannot compare what we are going to have tomorrow, and what we had in February, March, when we were playing. It’s going to be completely different match.

“She’s good on hard court, she’s good on clay, so it doesn’t matter. But I think, for me, it’s better to face her on clay.

“Tomorrow is another mountain in front of me which I have to climb,” Kasatkina added. “Maybe it’s even better that I don’t have much time to think about how good [it] is to be in the semi-finals, so I have another battle tomorrow.”

In the 6 sets played between the two on hard courts this year, Swiatek lost just 11 games combined.

“I want to use the experience that I have and, also, I know her game style pretty well, and I know how her strokes, how I feel them on my racket, so that’s pretty positive,” Swiatek said. “But I don’t really want to become over-confident.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen because still it’s semi-final of a Grand Slam and she really deserves with her game to be here. Because I feel, like, she’s playing even more solid than she was, and she already played really solid.

“I’m going to prepare as to any other match and, for sure, I’m going to use the experience, but I don’t really want to come back to those matches, because they were on hard court and it was a different time for me.

“I feel, like, I’m in the right place and that place that I, kind of, worked for really hard. Being in the semi-final, it’s a new experience because it [doesn’t] happen very often, and I hope I’m going to use my chance.”



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