Defending champion Iga Swiatek demolished US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, 6-2 6-1, at the Adelaide International on Wednesday in just 74 minutes to set up a quarter-final encounter with former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
I love playing such an experienced player because it’s always a challenge. I have a different mindset when I play against players like that because I watched them when I was younger. It shows me my progress, but also I have huge amount of respect for them. Iga Swiatek
The Pole, who won the 2020 French Open as a 19-year-old, was in superb form and dropped just 3 games against the Canadian, while Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, was made to work hard by Australian wild-card Priscilla Hon before winning, 6-3 7-5.
Swiatek, the 5th seed, struck 20 clean winners and made only 10 unforced errors with the power and precision of her groundstrokes keeping Fernandez on the back foot as she broke the 19-year old Canadian twice in each set and did not face a single break point herself in a dominant performance.
“I felt really confident, and I was happy I could finish it so quickly and I didn’t let go of focus.” Swiatek said. “I was pretty stressed because this was the first time I was playing someone younger than me.
“I was in the mood, and that was great because I was pretty stressed since… I was playing against a younger girl, which is pretty new for me.”
Swiatek took control of the match from 1-1 in the first set and capitalised on Fernandez’s misfiring serve as she extended her winning streak in Adelaide to 7 matches.
“She’s pretty talented and she’s a Grand Slam finalist, so I knew it was going to be tricky,” the 20-year added.
From 1-1 in the first set, and 2 games that stretched past deuce, Swiatek largely cruised, hitting 17 winners to just 8 unforced errors.
Her focus down the stretch did not waver as it took 5 match points to put Fernandez away, the Canadian saving 3 in her last service game and putting another hold on the board from 0-40 down at 6-1, 5-1.
Swiatek didn’t lose a set in Adelaide last year en route to winning her second career title, and her sets won streak at the event has now reached 14.
With the win, the Pole also improved to 14-3 against left-handers at pro level, having won her last 6 matches against southpaws dating back to a 2020 loss to Arantxa Rus in Rome, just prior to her breakthrough victory at Roland Garros.
“I’ve never had a problem [playing against left-handers],” Swiatek said. “I had a few opponents who were lefties when I was younger, so I guess on every level I’ve had chances to play against lefties and I don’t mind it, really.”
Swiatek, who defeated Belinda Bencic to win last year’s title, will face the right-handed Azarenka next, who will also be a threat at the Australian Open later this month, and found the going tougher than she might have expected against Hon, the World No 263.
Hon had stunned Petra Kvitova in the first round on Monday, and threatened a tiebreak in the second set against Azarenka, but the Belarusian wrapped up the win in just under 90 minutes.
The Aussie pushed Azarenka into finding another gear when, trailing 6-3, 2-0, Hon broke to love and stayed on serve for much of the second set, including a gritty service hold from 0-40 to level at 4-4.
“I felt like I played well, but there were some occasions where I got myself into trouble with hesitation,” Azarenka said. “I have to give it to Priscilla; she really defended well and got me into that mode of not committing fully, but I’m glad that I was able to finish strong.
“Some of those moments are important, also, in the beginning of the season, when [you have] some tight moments to overcome, so I’m actually grateful for that.”
Azarenka and Swiatek have played once before, with the Belarusian winning a 6-4 6-2 match in the 3rd round of the 2020 US Open when the Pole was ranked 53 and was months away from capturing her first major title at Roland Garros later that autumn.
Swiatek said she was looking forward to the up-coming match.
“I love playing such an experienced player because it’s always a challenge,” Swiatek said of the 32-year-old “I have a different mindset when I play against players like that because I watched them when I was younger.
“It shows me my progress, but also I have huge amount of respect for them.”
Elsewhere, Japan’s Misaki Doi reached the quarters with a 7-6(4) 6-3 over Anastasia Gasanova from Russia, who had put out the 8th-seeded Elina Svirolina on Tuesday.
The unseeded second-round clash saw Doi dominating with her left-handed forehand to take a 4-0 lead before Gasanova fought back to win 5 straight games and serve for the set, but the Japanese steadied the ship to force a tiebreak and drew away in the second set.
In the night match, 6th seed Sofia Kenin from the United States came from a set and 5-3 down, and saved 3 match points, to overcome local favourite Ajla Tomljanovic and reach quarter-final where she will meet World No 1 Ash Barty on Friday.
For the second year running, Kenin pulled off a Houdini act in her second match of the season, beating Tomljanovic, 3-6 7-6(5) 6-3, in 2 hours 30 minutes.
This time last year, she also saved a match point trailing 6-3, 6-5 before overcoming Yulia Putintseva 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4 in the 3rd round of Abu Dhabi.
Staring down the barrel of defeat, Kenin came up with 2 brave forehands to deny Tomljanovic, before the Australian netted a make-able counter-drop on her 3rd match point.
Kenin is contesting her first tournament since Wimbledon last year and, as in her first-round victory over qualifier Lucia Bronzetti, her form fluctuated and made for unpredictable play.
Even when she had seized the momentum in the deciding set, she still conceded two breaks back before getting over the line.
In total, Kenin struck 55 winners to 54 unforced errors, but she made the timing of the former count and, with her back to the wall, the American mostly came up with the goods when it mattered most.
She found vintage backhand winners to both break Tomljanovic back as the World No 45 served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, and then to convert her first set point.
Inevitably, Tomljanovic’s level dipped as the finishing line got closer and, having served just one double-fault to get to 6-3, 3-3, the Aussie served 6 more over her next 4 service games, with the final 2 paving the way to go down a break in the decider.
In an edgy decider, both committed a series of tired errors, but Kenin was the one who found the sporadic extra gear to keep her nose in front.
Tomljanovic held a break-back point in the final game, but Kenin saved it with a service winner before closing the win out courtesy of 2 routine netted groundstrokes from the home player.
Kenin now faces another local favourite in Barty, who leads their overall head-to-head 4-2, but the American has fond memories of their last meeting on Australian soil, which was a 7-6(6) 7-5 triumph in the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals when she went on to win the AO title.
Meanwhile, with the furore surrounding Novak Djokovic’s detention in Melbourne over entry visa issues, Barty refused to comment on the situation, saying she is not the one making these decisions and adding that she understands the frustration of some Victorians.
“I know how hard it has been for Australians all around our nation, but in particular Victorians have had a real rough trot over the last two years,” Barty told Sportskeeda. “I understand why they may be frustrated with the decision.”
“Ultimately I have no interest in speaking about Novak’s medical history.”