World No 1 Iga Swiatek was pushed hard by Emma Raducanu, the No 8 seed, in the quarter-final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix on Friday, but maintained her winning run with a 6-4 6-4 victory over the British No 1.
When I reached number one it was surprising for me. I didn't change. When I was an underdog for the past three years, I felt like playing as an underdog was easier as you can play without pressure. As soon as I felt like I learned enough to be comfortable, as the one who is seeded, or with a better ranking, it feels fine honestly. Iga Świątek
That the Polish top seed took the encounter seriously was obvious from the start when, at the coin toss, Swiatek was a blur of motion, making shadow swings, stamping her feet and adopting her game face as a relaxed, somewhat amused Raducanu looked on with one hand on her hip.
It was the 19-year old Brit’s first pro contest with a top 10 player, and who better to test herself against than the new World No 1?
It proved to be a fascinating meeting which, unsurprisingly, Swiatek eventually won, extending her unbeaten record to 21 matches and, even more remarkably, without dropping a set in her last 13.
It is no accident that the 20-year old leads the WTA Tour with 28 wins this season, and has 3 WTA 1000 titles under her belt.
Asked how she has managed to achieve all this, Swiatek said: “Honestly, just step by step. [I’m] not thinking about what’s happened, and what’s going to happen. I’m just focusing on the next match.
“I am doing everything well to prepare and recover after each round. It’s huge work, honestly, [for] me and my team. It looks like I am going with the flow but behind it, it is hard work.”
Interestingly, Swiatek dropped 8 games to Raducanu, having lost just 3 in her previous 6 sets, which is an indication that the young Brit is finding her feet on clay and poses a very real threat.
“I’m pretty happy that today’s match was longer because it’s going to give me a lot of experience,” the top seed said. “Playing here is never routine because the surface is really tricky.”
Swiatek made a good start, breaking Raducanu in the opening game of the match and then holding on to her serve for the rest of the first set, dropping just 3 points on her deliveries to comfortably take the opener.
The Pole also started the second with a break, but Raducanu broke back immediately, only to drop her serve again in the 3rd game, before leaving the court for a medical time-out.
When play resumed, Swiatek held her own deliveries to ride out the match in straight sets, but she had to save 2 break points in both the 8th and 10th games to do so, and was glad to come through the highly-anticipated meeting between two Grand Slam champions after an hour 45 minutes.
“I think [it was] just about balancing the risk I was taking with some sort of games,” Swiatek said after the match. “I still needed to adjust a few things, and get used to the surface during the match.
“I played more solid and less risky, sometimes, but on the other hand, also aggressively. So, when I balanced that act, it was pretty good.”
By defeating the World No 12, Swiatek has won her last 7 matches against Top 20 opposition, with her last loss coming against former World No 1 Ash Barty at Adelaide in January.
She also is now 4-0 against British players in her pro career, defeating Heather Watson at 2019 Toronto qualifying and 2021 Eastbourne, and beating Harriet Dart at this year’s Australian Open before topping Raducanu on Friday.
Arguably, Raducanu gave Swiatek her stiffest test of the year after having won back-to-back matches for the first time in 6 months to reach the quarters and, despite the defeat, she will be encouraged by her performance on the indoor clay this week, which should her rise to No 11 in the rankings.
Next up for Swiatek is big-hitting Liudmila Samsonova, who defeated Germany’s Laure Siegemund, 7-5 6-3, to reach the Stuttgart semi-final.
“I’ve seen the scores, and it seems like [Samsonova] is getting more and more confident, and her ranking is going up,” said Swiatek. “So for sure she’s one to watch, and she’s doing huge progress. … I need to tactically prepare tomorrow, and I’ll be ready.”
After clinching her straight-set win over Siegemund, Samsonova praised her German opponent, saying: “I knew that it was going to be a very tough match.
“The way she plays, she changes her game a lot, so I had to be very, very focused today.”
The World No 31 is into her first semi-final of the year after her 1-hour and 48-minute victory over the wild-carded Siegemund, who is on the comeback trail after returning from a right leg injury.
A long first set was cracked open at the end by Samsonova, who took the last 2 games of the opener by using furious forehands to force errors from Siegemund on game points.
Samsonova took the early lead in the second with a break for 2-1, then claimed another break for good measure in the last game of the clash, to love.
In the lower half of the draw, the No 2 seed, Paula Badosa from Spain, took out Ons Jabeur, the 7th-seeded Tunisian, 7-6(9) 1-6 6-3, after a 2 hour 11 minute battle to move through to her third semi-final of the year against 3rd seed Aryna Sabalenka and the World No 2 ranking spot.
“Against Ons, she’s an amazing player and she plays so, so well;” Badosa said. “It’s so tough to beat her, so I’m really happy about this win today.
“This means more to me than just a match; I’m at my best ranking. I was going after it at the last tournaments and I couldn’t [get it].
“I was fighting a lot and it was really my goal, so I’m really happy about that.”
The 67-minute first set proved to be the key to the match, with both taking early leads—Badosa 2-0 up and Jabeur ahead 5-3—ahead of the tiebreak, where they each held set points, with the Spaniard denying the Tunisian the set at 6-5 and 8-7, before converting on her 3rd chance.
“The first set, I think it was a very high level from both sides,” Badosa said. “Either one of us could win it, and I’m very pleased that I could win it. I was really, really tired and my energy went down.
“She played very well, as well. I was feeling pain everywhere, but as I always say, I’m a fighter and that’s what I want to be remembered for, so I’m really happy that I fought until the last moment.”
Badosa won just 6 points in the first 5 games of the second set, and quelled similar momentum by Jabeur to start the decider.
The Spaniard saved 3 break points at 1-1, and later, an 8-point swing in her favour from 2-2 gave her a lead she never relinquished, and although Jabeur broke back in the 7th game, Badosa denied her two chances to level at 4-4 before capturing the last 2 games.
Badosa’s semi-final opponent, Sabalenka, snapped Anett Kontaveit’s 22-match indoor streak, 6-4 3-6 6-1, improving her record against the Estonian to 5-0.
“The third set was a perfect set for me,” Sabalenka said. “She played really well; it was a really tough match, and I’m super happy with the result.”
On her dominance against Kontaveit, Sabalenka added: “Every match I play against Anett is always a tough battle; I wouldn’t say that I like to play against her!
“Today, I enjoyed every second on court, I enjoyed my game, and I think that’s how I found my way through.”
Sabalenka will face her doubles partner in Badosa next.
“I didn’t really know her that well before Tiebreak Tennis and we decided to play doubles,” Sabalenka told WTA Insider. “Then we started to get to know each other more.
“I was surprised by how nice she is. I like her personality and I like practicing and spending time with her.”
Being friends will not make playing each other easier, though.
“When you see her play with that serve, and forehand and backhand, do I think it’s going to make it easier because we’re friends? My answer is no,” Badosa said, laughing.
“With Ons, the drop-shots were going very good for her today and I’m her friend.
“We’re competitive. In that moment, we have no friends. She pushes you to the limit and if you don’t have a good day you don’t have chances.
“I hope it’s the new normal, to see me in the final rounds, to see Iga, Ons, Sakkari, Aryna. It’s nice. It’s a new generation. It had to come someday and I’m happy that I’m among the top.”