Late on Sunday afternoon there were two thrilling Last 16 matches, which saw Iga Swiatek seriously challenged and Elena Svitolina producing a remarkable fightback, which is reported elsewhere on Tennis Threads [Click HERE].
For sure this match is going to give me more belief. I'm happy that it was really tight and I could still play my game. Belinda [Bencic] is a really, really great player. She likes playing on grass. She has this game style that helps her a little bit on grass. It wasn't an easy match, for sure, today. You saw that. I'm just happy that I won it 'cause it feels I'm going the right direction. Iga Świątek
Swiatek, a 4-time Grand Slam champion, met Olympic Gold medallist Belinda Bencic, who felt no fear in facing the World No 1, and pushed the Pole to her very limits, so much so that the Swiss held 2 match points over the 22-year old World No 1.
At this stage of the 3 hour 3 minute contest, Swiatek showed her true mettle, saving both with winners off each wing, and then holding her serve to force a second tiebreak after over 2 hours of play on the Centre Court, before battling on to defeat Bencic, the 14th seed, 6-7(4) 7-6(2) 6-3, to advance to her first Wimbledon quarter-final.
“I don’t know if I even came back from match point down in my career,” a relieved Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “I feel I needed the win to believe in myself on this surface.”
It is Swiatek’s 14th consecutive win as she booked her a place in her 9th straight quarter-final, and she is the youngest player to make the Last 8 at all 4 majors since Svetlana Kuznetsova.
26-year old Bencic is a big hitter and a very experienced competitor, but Swiatek had her chances to take control far earlier than she eventually did, as, 6 times in the first set, she held a break point but failed to cash in on any of them.
Two came when she was a point away from taking the opener while ahead 5-4, but when she did not convert either, Bencic pushed matters into a tiebreak, in which she raced out to a 6-1 lead before pocketing it herself.
“Usually I’m using my chances,” Swiatek said. “I had six break points. I felt like I’m more solid. I still lost the set.
“I didn’t want to focus on that in the second and third. It stayed in my head a little bit. I felt, like, I should have been the one that won that set, but it doesn’t work like that.
“I thought there’s no sense to, kind of, think about that. I just wanted to go forward and have no regrets.”
Through her first 3 matches at Wimbledon, Swiatek had broken serve in 64% of her return games, and she looked well on her way to maintaining that stat against Bencic, who coughed up 2 double-faults in her first service game to offer up 3 break points at 0-40, although the Swiss saved all to get on the board.
Bencic’s grit was tested again later in the set after having already saved a set point, and she faced a second at 4-5, 30-40, when she won the biggest point of the match, setting Swiatek up with a perfectly struck drop-shot and passing her down the line to save her 19th consecutive break point.
The Swiss held for 5-5, and forced the tiebreak by closing out her 24th consecutive hold of serve, not having been broken since the 2nd-round at SW19.
After losing the opener, Swiatek headed to the locker room with a notebook in hand, searching for answers to her dilemma, and she seemed to be back to her dominant best when she broke to go up 3-1 in second.
Again, though, the Pole let her advantage slip away, and she dropped the next 3 games, before she appeared to be on the brink of a shock exit after ballooning a backhand long to hand Bencic 2 match points at 15-40 in the 12th game.
Escaping that danger with great courage, Swiatek took charge of the breaker from 2-all, reeling off 5 consecutive points, the last of which was a welcome double-fault by Bencic, to send the contest to a deciding set.
“I made two good returns, and, of course, I tried to make her play,” Bencic said, when asked if she would have played her match points differently. “She came up with a great shot. That’s well done from her. I would do the same thing again.”
Two early break points decided the third set, with Bencic earning the first chance when Swiatek was serving at 1-1, but she failed to convert, and Swiatek grabbed her first chance a game later, breaking for 3-1 after the Swiss produced her 10th double-fault of the match.
Bencic did not see another break-point opportunity as Swiatek efficiently protected her lead and closed out the win with her 33rd winner of the match in a little over 3 hours, probably the longest match the Pole has ever played at senior level.
“For sure this match is going to give me more belief,” Swiatek said later. “I’m happy that it was really tight and I could still play my game.
“Belinda is a really, really great player. She likes playing on grass. She has this game style that helps her a little bit on grass.
“It wasn’t an easy match, for sure, today. You saw that. I’m just happy that I won it ’cause it feels I’m going the right direction.”
Swiatek has extended her unbeaten run to 14 matches, which includes claiming her 4th Grand Slam title at the French Open last month.
Next up is former semi-finalist Svitolina, who reached the quarter-finals with a 2-6 6-4 7-6(9) win against Victoria Azarenka on No 1 Court One, coming from 7-4 down in the match tiebreak, and sealing her dramatic with an ace.
Swiatek already has won 3 championships at Roland Garros, and one at the US Open, but she has never before got past the 4th-round at the All England Club, where, last year, she had a 37-match winning streak snapped during a 3rd-round Wimbledon loss at the hands of Alizé Cornet, until now.
The 22-year old later said she felt was able to play without fear when facing a shock exit.
“It’s actually a little bit easier because, on the other hand, you feel, like, she’s leading anyway, so you play those shots more fearlessly, because you know you have nothing to lose,” Swiatek said. “Every day my love is getting bigger [for the grass] so, hopefully, I’m going to have as many days as possible to stay here, and play on this court.
“For sure, this is my best year on grass, so I feel really, kind of, motivated, because I know that even when you’re not playing 100 per cent, the hard work is paying off.”
Swiatek was broken just once in the match, saving 3 of 4 break points and, after seeing 6 break points come and go in the first set, the Pole was 2 for 3 on break points for the remainder of the match.
While Swiatek hit 9 more winners than unforced errors, 33-24, Bencic struck 30 winners to 33 unforced errors, and, of those, 10 were double-faults.
“I think it was an incredible match,” Bencic reflected. “Of course, she’s No 1 in the world so she’s not going to give me the match just like that, but still, I think I threw everything I could at her and I pushed her to the limit.
“In that case, I’m super proud of how it went from my side. She’s incredibly precise, or just has great depth and, kind of, the balls are really, really deep into your feet.”
Swiatek breaks new ground against Svitolina for a spot in the semi-finals, against whom she has won their only previous match, a straight-sets win on the clay in Rome in 2021.