The BNP Paribas Poland Open played catch-up on Wednesday, after rain curtailed play the previous day, but the 4,000 seat stadium did not fully fill up until World No 1 Iga Swiatek took to the court to demolish Polish compatriot Magdalena Frech, 6-1 6-2, and extended her clay-court winning streak to 17 in an hour 13 minutes of play.
I’m very pleased. To be honest, I’ve never done this before, changing surfaces two days before the tournament. I’m happy to have done this very smoothly, but the next matches will show whether I can keep it up. When it comes to playing on the Center Court, it’s a huge pleasure. I’m happy so many people came, so many people are interested in tennis. Iga Swiatek
The 21-year old World No 1 said she needed all of her focus to prevent from being distracted by the wild support from her home fans.
“For sure, playing in your hometown, with all that crowd, is pretty extraordinary,” Swiatek said. “I didn’t get a chance to play many tournaments in Poland so, for sure, I needed extra focus and determination to come here, and stay in the zone, and not let my head think about other stuff.”
It was her first tournament back since her premature 3rd-round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of Alizé Cornet that ended her record-making 37-match winning streak, and the two-time French Open champion now stands at 47-4 for the season.
“I had a break after Wimbledon, but I pretty quickly forgot about it because I trained really hard,” she continued. “We had a small pre-season before this tournament so, physically, I feel great.
“Mentally, I had some challenges, like having that exhibition match in Krakow, which was really emotional,” she added. “Mentally, it was crazy all that happened there.”
Swiatek played in a charity exhibition in Krakow at the weekend in aid of Ukrainian children impacted by the war, a cause very close to her heart, where she lost the one-set contest to the now retired Agnieszka Radwanska.
Warsaw, where her father is one of the organisers of the tournament at Legia Tenis & Golf, is also special to Swiatek.
“First rounds aren’t easy, no matter the tournament,” she admitted. “Here there was also the factor of full stands, supporters who were very excited. The crowd in Poland is always very demanding!”
It was a sell-out capacity crowd watching the home favourite, who was born in Warsaw, and had not featured at the inaugural edition of the Poland Open last year.
“I’m very pleased,” she continued. “To be honest, I’ve never done this before, changing surfaces two days before the tournament.
“I’m happy to have done this very smoothly, but the next matches will show whether I can keep it up.
“When it comes to playing on the Center Court, it’s a huge pleasure. I’m happy so many people came, so many people are interested in tennis.
“I think it’s changed a lot over the past few years in Poland. My secondary goal [for this event] is to promote tennis in Poland.”
By far Poland’s top player, Swiatek was as gracious as always towards her latest opponent, Frech.
“I’m happy that I was solid today because Magda is not an easy opponent,” she said. “From the beginning, I wanted to put pressure on her, and I did that pretty well.
“I’m pretty sure, with our styles, the result may be different on different surfaces, for example, grass. But here I didn’t have a problem coming back with my topspins.”
That the Pole has yet to come to terms with grass is clear, but her dominance on clay remains supreme, having won the titles in Stuttgart and Rome alongside her second career Grand Slam at Roland Garros this year.
Her massive lead over the chasing pack on the WTA Rankings brokers no argument that she is a worthy World No 1, having tasted defeat on clay at last year’s Roland Garros, when Maria Sakkari stopped her run in the quarter-finals.
Against Frech, the two were tied to a game apiece in the opening set, before Swiatek claimed back-to-back breaks, and won the next 5 games to win the opener.
Tactically, Frech tried to wield her variety of shots and was more successful as the match went on, winning some backhand to backhand rallies, and forcing Swiatek to play some unusual shots.
It wasn’t enough, though, as the two-time French Open champion swiftly raised her game.
“I was ready for her slices and drop-shots,” she said. “They’re pretty unique, so I’m not surprised she uses them a lot on grass, and builds her advantage this way.
“Here, I can hit through them with topspin, and constantly put pressure on her, despite her resetting the rallies.”
After the opening 3 games of the second, Frech took a brief 2-1 lead but, just as she did in the first set, Swiatek went on a big run to win the next 5 games and complete a straight-sets win in impressive style.
Swiatek faced no break points, and converted 4 of the 7 break points she had on her compatriot’s serve.
She won 86% of her first-serve points and 65% of her second-serve points, while Frech finished the match by winning 58% of her first serves and 37% of her second serves.
The top seed will next face unseeded Romanian Gabriela Lee on Thursday, a left-hander with a one-handed backhand, who got past qualifier Raluka Serban, the first ever Cypriot to contest a WTA main draw, 3-6 6-2 7-5.
Swiatek’s fellow Poles, wild-cards Martyna Kubka and Weronika Falkowska, did not fare as well in their respective 1st-round matches.
Elisabeth Cocciaretto beat Kubka, 6-2 6-3, in an hour and 23 minutes, while Petra Martic, the 8th seed from Croatia ousted Falkowska, 7-5 6-4, in 2 hours and 7 minutes.
Cocciaretto’s fellow Italian, Sara Errani, a former French Open finalist, battled past Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus, 6-1 5-7 6-4, after 2 hours and 29 minutes, and will meet Ukrainian lucky loser Kateryna Baindl, who stunned defending champion Maryna Zanevska, the 11th seed from Belgium, 6-3 6-3, in their 1st-round match.
In other results on Wednesday, Kristina Mladenovic of France rallied to edge past 6th-seeded Anna Bondar from Hungary, 1-6 7-5 7-6(8), while, Brazilian lucky loser Laura Pigossi won the South American clash against Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska, 3-6 6-0 6-4, to reach her second quarter-final of 2022.
Pigossi will take on Ana Bogdan in the Last 8, after the Romanian dispatched Katerina Siniakova, 6-0 6-4, on Wednesday.