World No 1 Iga Swiatek’s uncertainty on the grass of Wimbledon’s No 1 Court led to a stumble against Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove, but she found her feet to get past the Dutchwoman in 3 sets, while seeds Simona Halep, Coco Gauff, Elena Rybakina and Amanda Anisimova all advanced to the 3rd-round without undue mishap.
It’s hard to describe because, well, on grass I feel like everything changes You have to adjust the movement. I mean, for sure, I really like how I move on court, especially when I can slide, when I can recover quickly. Here I can’t really slide. I have to slow down before hitting the ball, so it’s tricky. Iga Świątek
“I would say the grass is pretty tricky for me. I’m not going to lie,” Swiatek said after her 6-4 4-6 6-3 win. “I mean, I guess you can see that I’m not playing maybe as efficiently as on other surfaces.
“Basically my confidence is getting better overall, but this tournament is tricky, and I’m still feeling out how to play the best game here.”
Swiatek survived in just over 2 hours to extend her winning streak to 37 matches, which surpasses Monica Seles’ 36-match winning streak from 1990 and equals the 1997 efforts of Martina Hingis, while she also managed to stay on course for the title at the All England Club.
“Honestly, during a match, I don’t even think about the previous matches, and the streak, because I don’t think it’s giving me anything at that point,” the 21-year-old Pole said. “For sure my confidence, I build it during this season.
“It’s better. It’s getting better and better on every tournament.”
The two-time French Open champion’s prospects of winning the title improved with the departure of Karolina Pliskova, last year’s runner-up to Australian Ash Barty, after the Czech 6th seed suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Britain’s Katie Boulter, 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4.
Swiatek arrived in London without a competitive match on grass this year, opting to rest after winning her second Roland Garros title, and now faces an even sterner test in 37th ranked Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet in the 3rd round.
“I think I would play well on grass if I would have, kind of, more time to just play on this surface,” said Swiatek, who has won 6 titles this year. “Yeah, I mean, every year it’s only like four weeks, so I feel it’s not enough to learn properly.
“I guess I can see other players who learn how to do that, so I still have hope.”
Swiatek is no stranger to grass, though, having won the junior title here in 2018, and remains the clear favourite to add Wimbledon to her two French Open titles this year.
Nevertheless, World No 138 Pattinama Kerkhove severely tested the top seed in the Dutchwoman’s first match against a Top 10 player, unfazed in just the 6th Grand Slam main-draw match of her career.
“I was just, like, ‘Okay, go for it’,” Pattinama Kerkhove told the media. “Every point, every ball, I had to do it.
“When she’s attacking, it’s so tough to take the points to defend against her. So my goal was just like go for every shot, go for every ball, and play aggressive. I did. Actually, it worked well.”
The Dutchwoman took an early 4-2 lead behind sturdy forehands, but Swiatek began to find more reliable groundstrokes as the opener progressed and, using her own booming forehand, the Pole swept the last 4 games to take a one-set lead.
“It’s hard to describe because, well, on grass I feel like everything changes,” Swiatek later told reporters. “You have to adjust the movement.
“I mean, for sure, I really like how I move on court, especially when I can slide, when I can recover quickly. Here I can’t really slide. I have to slow down before hitting the ball, so it’s tricky.”
Pattinama Kerkhove then also claimed the first break in the second set, and did not yield from 4-3 up this time.
Having lost in the final round of qualifying before taking injured Danka Kovinic’s spot in the main draw, Pattinama Kerkhove was making the most of her lucky loser opportunity, and she saved both break points she faced in the second set before levelling the match.
The hesitancy in Swiatek was clear, but the 21-year old’s skill is such that she re-grouped and took charge in the decider, breaking for 3-1 with a rally forehand winner, which was all the top seed needed to ride out the win against a fading opponent, prevailing with 31 winners to Pattinama Kerkhove’s 15.
Swiatek will take on Alizé Cornet in the 3rd round, after she dispatched American Claire Liu 6-3 6-3 earlier on Thursday, in a first meeting between the Pole and the 32-year-old veteran Frenchwoman.
Cornet, a former World No 11, is playing her 62nd consecutive Grand Slam tournament, which ties Ai Sugiyama of Japan for the Open Era record, while her best Wimbledon result came in 2014, when she shocked No 1 seed Serena Williams to reach the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, there were tears on No 2 Court after Simona Halep, who won here in 2019, consigned Kirsten Flipkens into retirement.
The Belgian, a junior title winner at Wimbledon, announced at the beginning of June that The Championships would be her final singles tournament, and kissed the grass after her 7-5 6-4 loss to the Romanian No 16 seed.
Halep fought back from deficits in both sets to get past the 36-year-old, who was playing in her 50th and final Grand Slam, and held a 5-2 lead in the first set, and a 4-1 advantage in the second.
The Romanian had never lost a set to Flipkens, owning a 5-0 head-to-head, but her clean sheet was under threat throughout the match, thanks to some jaw-dropping work by the Belgian at the net.
Halep dug in to keep extend her Wimbledon winning streak to 9 matches, reeling off 5 straight games to seal the opening set after 37 minutes, and amping up her baseline aggression to find a way through Flipkens’ frequent net approaches.
The second set saw the former World No 1 turn the tide from 4-1 down to win the last 5 games of the match, finishing with 20 winners to 17 unforced errors, while Flipkens struck 24 winners to 21 unforced errors.
The two hugged at the net for a long time as Flipkens burst into tears, realising that her singles career was now over.
With retired Belgian four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters watching from the stands, Flipkens continued crying, and left her headband on the court before kissing the grass goodbye as the crowd gave her warm applause.
Halep showed real class in turning attention to her friend, paying tribute to her: “Definitely it’s not about my match today, it’s about her,” she said on the court. “I’m really happy I can play the last match against her.
“We talked in Dubai about this moment; it was pretty emotional back then, but now it’s double.
“I really want to congratulate you for the whole life in tennis. We will miss you and good luck for the future. Holiday first, and then think about anything that you want. Thank you for everything.”
Later Flipkens reflected on the occasion.
“I mean, a lot of emotions going through my body, of course,” she said. “For everything there is an end in life, and I’m about to start now a new chapter. It’s a special feeling.
“Like I said, I would have dreamed for a good-bye like today. I was really close to even taking a set from a champion like Simona. It’s not that I cannot play my best anymore with a champion like her or with other players.
“It’s just you’re 36 years old, you have been through so much in your career, ups and downs, and, yeah, it was just a perfect way for me to end.”
“What will I miss most? Yeah, I think the interaction with the fans.
“Like you see, the good-bye that I had on court today, a standing ovation from a full court No. 2, with the words like Simona ending that way. I think definitely the adrenaline, like going out on court, being focused.
“There is much more that I would not miss anymore than that I will miss, but I think definitely the interaction with the fans and the adrenaline going through your body with ups and downs. Yeah, it’s been a hell of a ride.”
Halep will next face 92nd ranked Magdalena Frech for a place in the 4th-round after the Pole was a 6-4 6-4 winner over Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
In the last match of the day on Centre Court, Coco Gauff, the 11th-seeded American, defeated another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-2 6-3, unleashing her mighty serve in the process.
The Roland-Garros finalist broke Buzarnescu’s serve in the 4th game and launched an 122 mph rocket to win the 5th, only to better that with a 124 mph torpedo in the second set, the fastest serves so far in the women’s tournament.
Gauff, who never faced a break and won 85% of her first-serve points, broke the Romanian again to close out the first set in a brisk 31 minutes on the Centre Court.
The 18-year-old slipped and fell in the 6th game of the second set, but never lost her poise, forcing Buzarnescu into an error in the 8th game to break her serve, and then closed out the affair with an ace, one of 10 across the match.
“I would say, growing up, I didn’t expect myself to be as comfortable as I am on the grass and the clay,” she told reporters. “Playing an unpredictable surface, [what] I really credit a lot is my speed and my ability to be able to react and adjust. I think that’s what you need on these surfaces.”
The win set up a 3rd-round encounter with compatriot and 20th-seeded Amanda Anisimova, who defeated fellow American Lauren Davis 2-6 6-3 6-4 on Thursday.
Gauff exploded onto the global stage in 2019 when she reached the 4th-round at Wimbledon at just 15-years-old, while she also advanced to the last 16 last year.
“Today was the first time I walked on the court and really wasn’t nervous at all,” said Gauff. “It’s a little bit of a home-court advantage.
“I do feel like it’s a home court for me. Majority of the time when I’m playing on that court, I would say the majority of the crowd is with me.”
Elsewhere, out on Court 12, Rybakina, the 17th seed from Kazakstan, edged out Canada’s Bianca Andreescu 6-4 7-6(5) to bring the former US Open winner’s come-back showing at Wimbledon to an end.
Andreescu, who reached the Bad Homburg final last weekend, exits Wimbledon with no regrets, saying: “The universe just keeps testing me.”
Rybakina next meets China’s Zheng Qinwen, who is making her own Wimbledon main-draw debut and beat Greet Minnen from Belgium, 6-4 6-1.
Barbora Krejcikova, the 13th seed from Czech Republic, has had an injury-plagued 2022 season but scored a 6-3 6-4 win over Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic, and will face Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic next.