It was a difficult day for Iga Swiatek at the San Diego Open in Southern California, where persistent drizzle delayed the start of her match against Zheng Qinwen, but the World No 1 eventually found her feet well enough to get her campaign under way with a 3-set win.
This draw is so good that I wasn’t expecting any easy matches. Qinwen, she has a different game style because she’s playing topspin on her forehand and the ball is flying pretty high. So today I had to adjust to that. But overall, the first matches of any tournament is about adjusting to the conditions we have here. Iga Świątek
Her opponent in the quarter-finals is Coco Gauff, who also needed 3 sets to get past Bianca Andreescu, while Madison Keys upset Daria Kasatkina, Aryna Sabalenka saw off Sloane Stephens and Paula Badosa dispatched Louisa Chirico to make the Last 8 on Thursday.
Once play did get under way, Swiatek needed 2 hours and 18 minutes to post her 6-4 4-6 6-1 win over Zheng and, as straight-forward as that might sound, there was a real threat from the 20-year old Chinese, who was the only player to take a set off the Pole during her run to the French Open title in June.
Contending with the steady mist that caused a 30-minute delay just after the match’s initial point was played, and another brief halt early in the second set, Swiatek shook off the hard-hitting Zheng, ranked 28, in a dominating final set.
It was the 21-year-old’s 61st win on the WTA tour this year, while she has held the world’s top ranking since 4 April.
“It’s pretty amazing. I wasn’t expecting to have this kind of good experience so soon in my career,” admitted Swiatek, who has pocketed 6 titles in the process, including the US Open, French Open and Indian Wells. “I thought I would have that when I was at my peak, at 24 or 25, and have that experience.
“I am pretty happy that I am able to give my all, and play well, and be in that place.
“It’s like my dreams are coming true.”
Playing on a slick hard-court surface, both made frequent use of drop-shots, which caused Swiatek to take a tumbled in the second, but it was a brief glitch.
Both the first and second sets were tied at 4-all and, in the opener, Swiatek broke Zheng for a 5-4 lead before holding serve.
With the score again standing at 4-all in the second, it was Zheng who broke Swiatek for the 5-4 advantage and although the Chinese had to fend off 5 break points, she claimed the 9th game and then broke the top seed to level proceedings at a set apiece.
Zheng earned an early break point at 1-0 in the final set, but Swiatek fought it off with just her second ace of the day, and she then went on to hold before breaking for the first time since the first set to lead 2-1.
The Pole bounded out to a 5-1 lead from there, having found her range and growing in confidence, and captured the final game to love.
The win moves her to 14-4 in 3-set matches this season, and she has not lost in the opening round of a tournament since 2021 Cincinnati, over a year ago. It is also her 12th quarter-final of the year, yet another tour-leading mark.
“This draw is so good that I wasn’t expecting any easy matches,” said Swiatek, who reached last Sunday’s finals of the Agel Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic, before losing to former World No 2 Barbora Krejcikova. “Qinwen, she has a different game style because she’s playing topspin on her forehand and the ball is flying pretty high. So today I had to adjust to that.
“But overall, the first matches of any tournament is about adjusting to the conditions we have here.”
Swiatek, who dropped her serve only once against Zheng as she won 74% of her first service points, next takes on Gauff, the 6th seed, in a repeat of the French Open final earlier this year.
It will be the 4th meeting between the two junior contemporaries, and their 3rd of the season.
Swiatek has won all 6 sets they’ve played, first in Rome last year, and Miami and Paris this spring, while in both their meetings this year, the World No 1 has not lost more than 4 games against the American.
Gauff came through a physical battle against Andreescu, the former US Open winner from Canada, 6-4 4-6 6-3, after a two and a half hour battle, coming back from a break down in the third set.
Although she was broken in her first service game of each set, Gauff kept her cool to take advantage of Andreescu’s occasional dips in form.
Gauff was twice a point away from falling behind a double-break in the final set, but gamely dug herself out of a 15-40 hole at 0-2.
A string of over-aggressive errors from Andreescu at 3-2 gave Gauff the chance to get back on serve, and the 18-year-old capitalised to level at 3-all before breaking the Canadian again for a 5-3 lead, and then closing out the match.
“There were some turning points, but every game mattered, every point mattered,” Gauff said. “We both fought hard, and the atmosphere was great.”
On facing Swiatek in the quarters on Friday, Gauff added: “Obviously the level is going to be great. Iga is a champion, and it’s going to be an opportunity to see if I improved since the last time, so we’ll see how things go this time.”
The winner of the Swiatek-Gauff clash will face either 4th seed Jessica Pegula or Madison Keys for a place in the final after the former beat Coco Vandeweghe, 6-3 6-1, on Wednesday, while Keys upset 8th seed Kasatkina, 6-4 6-3, on Thursday.
Keys battled back from 0-4 down in the opening set before clinching victory in 1 hour and 27 minutes.
“I knew that today would be really difficult against Dasha, she’s obviously had a really great season so far and has played some really good tennis,” Keys said. “I’m really glad I was able to get back in that first set and be able to ride that momentum.”
Keys held a 7-0 lead in her head-to-head with Kasatkina at the start of the year, but the Russian finally got a win on the board in their rivalry in their lone previous match this season, at Melbourne Summer Set 2.
The pendulum swung back Keys’ way on Thursday, though, as she notched exactly 50 percent of points returning the Kasatkina first serve en route to the win.
Keys will face her fellow American Pegula in the quarters in her first meeting on tour with the 4th seed.
Elsewhere in the draw, 2nd seed Badosa from Spain breezed her way into the Last 8 by thrashing American qualifier Chirico, 6-0 6-3, in less than an hour.
The dominant performance saw the Spaniard win 56 out of the 81 points played in the match, and she will meet another American next, Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, who beat Italy’s Martina Trevisan, 6-2 6-4, on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, No 3 seed Sabalenka from Belarus overcame a difficult start to see off America’s Stephens, 1-6 6-3 6-2, in what was a roller-coaster encounter.
She stormed back from a first-set rout to win in just over 2 hours, and maintained her undefeated record against Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion Stephens, with all 3 wins going to a decisive third set.
In her first match since making her second straight US Open semi-final, Sabalenka struck 23 winners to Stephens’ 15.
After splitting the first two sets, Sabalenka took charge in the decider by slamming a return winner to break Stephens to love for 4-2 and, although she fell behind 0-40 in the very next game, she deployed aggressive shots, especially with the serve, to reel off 5 points in a row and consolidate for 5-2.
Sabalenka broke Stephens for the 6th time in the following game to wrap up the win, lining up a meeting with former Top 20 player Vekic in the quarter-finals.
Vekic, who qualified for the main draw this week, has beaten Sabalenka in 4 of their 5 prior meetings.