Iga Swiatek is now the highest seed left in the women’s draw at the French and remains on course to defend her French Open title after beating Marta Kostyuk in the late match on Monday night at Roland Garros.
Nerves got the better of me. Definitely I need some work on that. It’s really disappointing. I had some tough matches and I was able to win, I was able to deal with my nerves. And today obviously it’s really frustrating – I get here and I completely lose it. There’s a lot of mental work to be done. Sofia Kenin
It was by no means an easy for Swiatek as the Ukrainian teenager severely tested her, but the Pole found her way through the 1 hour 32 match and played herself into the quarter-finals, 6-3 6-4.
A week after her 20th birthday, Swiatek is in the unexpected position of being the experienced player left in the field, having won her maiden Grand Slam title here in Paris last year.
“Playing the night session… is always hard, because you have to change the whole rhythm of the day, change the routines,” Swiatek said after the match. “So still, even though I played many night sessions right now, I sometimes struggle at the beginning to find the rhythm and to see the ball properly with the lights, not with the sun.
“You just have to adjust to that, because we both have the same conditions. It’s going better and better every match, but still, I need some more experience.
“I like [being tested] because it keeps me constantly on my toes. It just keeps you focused all the time, because you don’t have that flow, so… you have to work all the time.
“With that flow, you sometimes can seem surprised that, ‘Hey, something is not good,’ and then you’re going to panic. But right now I’m getting tested, as you said. Still I’m moving forward, so that’s even better for me.”
Swiatek’s latest win over the 18-year-old Kostyuk extends her run at Roland Garros to 11 straight matches and 22 sets and she is now the heavy favourite to lift the trophy again on Saturday.
Kostyuk reached the third round of the Australian Open at the age of 15 and is beginning to string results together.
Six of the 9 games played in the first set stretched past deuce, including a 6-deuce 4th game where Swiatek earned the break back after dropping her own serve at 1-1.
The pair later swapped service games at the same stage of the second set before Swiatek earned a second at 3-3, the break that eventually decided the match.
She denied Kostyuk a chance to pull level at 4-4, and although the Ukrainian saved a match point in the 8th game to force Swiatek to serve for the match, the No 8 seed would ultimately not be denied on her second chance.
“It was really intense. It was just one of the points when I couldn’t finish her and she was fighting till the end,” Swiatek said of her thoughts on match point.
“I’m pretty happy that my lob was in, because I couldn’t actually see. But it was risky, so I felt like kind of shaky, but I’m really happy that I made it in [an] important point. I was pretty solid so I’m happy about that.”
After the nip-and-tuck of the first 7 games, with Kostyuk using her defensive skills to match her opponent shot for shot, Swiatek’s variety and poise helped her move clear, while in the second set, the Ukrainian threatened again, punctuating brilliant play with costly misses, but the Pole stood firm to book a last-eight meeting with Maria Sakkari.
She finished with 22 winners and 20 unforced errors while Kostyuk had 20 winners and 27 unforced errors.
“Her defence was crazy so I had to finish her a few times,” Swiatek continued. “I’m not Rafa but my approaches are also pretty hard, but she was getting everywhere, so big bravo to her because the future’s ahead of her. Hopefully there’ll be many more meetings like that.”
Swiatek is also one of 4 quarter-finalists to still be alive in the singles and doubles fields, joining Barbora Krejcikova, Elena Rybakina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I’m pretty happy that I’m both in doubles and singles in the quarter-finals because it’s a big achievement. I won last year but still being in the quarter-finals of a grand slam isn’t an everyday thing so I’m really proud that I’m doing good.”
Up next for Swiatek is a first-ever meeting with Sakkari, the No 17 seed who ousted last year’s runner-up, No 4 seed Sofia Kenin, in straights earlier in the day.
“I haven’t played her, so it’s hard to say. I played many practices with her, and she’s really cool girl. Our teams, we like each other,” Swiatek said.
“It’s never easy to play with one of the nicest girls on tour. Tactically, I’m going to for sure be prepared. Right now I’m not thinking about it, because still I have tomorrow doubles. So I just want to focus on getting my body back to being fresh.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be good. She’s the kind of player who likes to play defense as well, as my opponent today. I’m just going to be ready. I’m going to be patient and hopefully it’s going to get results.”
Swiatek’s fan club keeps growing and on Monday night to include two of the ATP’s most iconic major champions and former No 1s, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick.
Murray took to Twitter to count himself a fan during the 20-year-old swashbuckling match Swiatek on Court Philippe Chatrier under the lights.
“Love watching @iga_swiatek,” Murray wrote.
The simple message caught the attention of Roddick: “Agreed. She’s awesome,” he replied to Murray.
Swiatek took the opportunity to briefly take her mind off the French Open and look ahead to Wimbledon. It never hurts to plan ahead.
“Thank you Sir Andy! Are you by any chance up for a practice? I really need to improve my skills on grass,” responded the 2018 junior Wimbledon champion, hoping for a few tips from the two-time Wimbledon champion.
The 20-year-old prepared for her Roland Garros title defence by hitting with her idol and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal ahead of the tournament.
“It wasn’t a surprise because I had to prepare, write [down] some small topics, not to have awkward silence,” Swiatek said. “But Rafa is really, really great. He’s a really nice guy.
“Even though I am pretty introverted, it was really fun for me. Obviously I got to feel his forehand, which was great, and his topspin. That was a whole new experience for me. It gave me a lot of positive energy. It was really a huge inspiration for me.”
“It’s really nice to see such a champion being normal off court, and also telling jokes and being a little bit sarcastic. It’s really, really nice.”
Sakkari the Greek bundled American fourth seed Sofia Kenin out with an emphatic 6-1 6-3 thrashing to reach her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final.
The 25-year old had lost her two previous fourth-round appearances in Grand Slams and came into Monday’s clash having lost twice in majors to Kevin, the 2020 Australian Open champion, but the Greek had won their last meeting in Abu Dhabi this year.
She raced into a 4-0 lead in the opening set as Kenin, the highest women’s seed left in the tournament, served up 2 double-faults in each of her two service games.
“I was stuck in the third round a lot of times, and that was an obstacle that I wanted to just kind of like break that curse and make it to the fourth round,” Sakkari told reporters.
“Now I’m excited to be in the quarter-finals for the first time. I knew it was going to come. I didn’t know when. But I think that I’ve been playing very good tennis, especially this year.”
A wasteful Kenin, last year’s finalist at Roland Garros, managed to hold just 2a service games and cut a frustrated figure on Suzanne Lenglen court, constantly muttering to herself but failing to solve her problems.
Playing with strapping on her left thigh, Kevin coughed up 9 double-faults and 32 unforced errors, the last when she sent a shot long on the second match point, and she blamed jitters for her exit.
“Nerves got the better of me,” Kenin said. “Definitely I need some work on that.
“It’s really disappointing. I had some tough matches and I was able to win, I was able to deal with my nerves. And today obviously it’s really frustrating – I get here and I completely lose it.
“There’s a lot of mental work to be done.”
Sakkari’s progress to the quarter-finals along with Stefanos Tsitsipas makes it the first time a Greek woman and a Greek man have made the last eight at the same major.