Before her fourth round clash against top seed and World No. 2 Simona Halep, 19-year-old Polish teenager Iga Swiatek made a rather bizarre comment in her press conference. She said she wanted to focus on her tennis career for the next two years and put herself in position to be among the top 10, failing which she would quit the sport and go to university.
If her performance on Sunday was any indication, Swiatek will need to put her university plans on hold for a while.
At last year's French Open, the two players had met in the fourth round of the French Open and Halep put on a ruthless performance, losing just one game. 16 months later, at the same stage of the tournament and on the same Court Phillipe Chatrier, it was Swiatek who put on a masterful performance that she later said surprised even herself.
Iga Swiatek is the first Polish woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2013
Keen follower of women's tennis would have been familiar with Iga Swiatek - who won the junior Wimbledon singles title and the junior French Open doubles title in 2018 - even before Sunday. The Pole also reached her first WTA final last year, and then made the fourth round at this year's Australian Open.
But on Sunday, she showed the tennis world that she is capable of much more than that. Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion, didn't have any answers to the questions that Iga Swiatek posed.
There have been many teens who have put on sporadic impressive displays in recent years, but what was different about Iga Swiatek's win was the sheer variety in her game. She showed us her solid serve (Swiatek won 81% of her first serve points and did not face a single break point in the match), her big forehand - which she used to pound winners at will - as well as an imposing crosscourt backhand that moved Halep well beyond the doubles alley.
The Pole struck 30 winners to 20 unforced errors, and stats on the television feed showed that she was hitting her groundstrokes at the same average speed as US Open men's champion Dominic Thiem. She also used the drop shot to great effect several times in the match, and was able to come to the net and finish off points effectively too (she won eight out of nine points at the net).
Early on in the second set, Iga Swiatek was unable to convert several break points on Halep's serve, and many wondered if that would be the opportunity for Halep to come back and turn the match around. But the Pole remained rock solid on her serve and eventually managed to break Halep twice in the second set (she ended the match with 4 off 14 break points), before holding on for the biggest win of her young career so far.
Whether Iga Swiatek is ready to win a Grand Slam yet remains to be seen (as per some bookies, she is now the favorite for the women's title). The draw is certainly wide open, with third seed Elina Svitolina - who is still looking to reach her first Grand Slam final - being the only seed remaining in her half of the draw.
But after her performance on Sunday, Iga Swiatek has certainly shown us that she has the game and the mindset to become a top player. Even if not at Roland Garros this year, she will likely be hoisting aloft many big trophies in the years to come.Published 04 Oct 2020, 18:13 IST