WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Iga Swiatek, the World No.1 and top seed at Wimbledon, did something Saturday she hadn’t done in more than four months. She lost a tennis match.
Swiatek, the 21-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion from Poland, lost in the third round to Alizé Cornet, the French veteran, 6-4, 6-2, ending her 37-match winning streak, one of the most longer. in modern women’s tennis.
Swiatek, however, did not lose the match as much as Cornet won it, emphatically even.
Playing with the straps on her left thigh, Cornet came out hitting hard, matching Swiatek’s power and taking advantage of the Polish champion’s discomfort on the pitch.
After dropping the first set, Swiatek seemed to put things right quickly and took a 2-0 lead. But Cornet won six games in a row with Swiatek losing the final point with a forehand into the middle of the net.
Swiatek shook her opponent’s hand, quickly put away her rackets and headed to the exit of Court No. 1, where an unknown relative had pushed her to three sets just two days earlier.
He waved and gave the crowd a thumbs up as he walked, then stopped to sign a series of autographs before leaving.
The result had a familiar feel to Cornet. In 2014 she beat Serena Williams, then world No. 1 and the tournament’s top seed, on the same No. 1 court.
However, that was relatively early in his career. Eight years later, in just 93 minutes, he achieved another monumental triumph and made the second week of a Grand Slam for the second time this year. Then, fittingly, he compared himself to another French favourite.
“Like good wine,” he told the crowd. “Ages well.”
However, the afternoon was really about Swiatek.
Anyone who has ever picked up a racket knows the most basic adage of the game: It’s hard to win a tennis match, but it’s incredibly easy to lose. A few errant shots, a poor quarter of an hour of service, the briefest lapses in concentration, and one set and then another slip away in what seems like minutes. Hopelessness appears and leaving the field as quickly as possible may seem like the best and only alternative, even though it is not.
However, it was not hopelessness that caused Swiatek’s death on Saturday. It was Cornet. A fearless opponent can be just as fatal.
That’s just part of what made Swiatek’s achievements during the first half of this year, in an era of women’s tennis where competition is intense from the first round of almost every tournament, so remarkable.
Swiatek lost to Jelena Ostapenko, the free-swinging Latvian, on February 16 in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships. Since then, she has won six consecutive singles titles, including her second French Open. She won three tournaments at the Masters 1,000 level, just below the Grand Slams.
In March and April he won the so-called Sunshine Double: the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, and the Miami Open. Only three other women had done that before. At the French Open, she lost only one set. Other players talked about just trying to get past the hour mark on the court with her. Many failed.
However, Swiatek always thought that the grass-court season could spell the end of his streak. He is more comfortable taking balls up and using his topspin and his power to put opponents behind from the opening moments of the match.
After winning the French Open in early June, she was faced with the choice of playing one or two warm-up tournaments to get more comfortable on her least favorite surface or taking a break and coming to Wimbledon feeling refreshed. She decided to rest and hoped that her growing confidence would help her solve the puzzle of the grass. She did not do it.
In practice, his timing was wrong. In games, balls slid across the turf instead of bouncing into her strike zone, taking away his most powerful weapon, that spin power, and forcing her to play more conservatively.
On Saturday afternoon, he went back to Plan A, trying to get Cornet off the court. Unable to control the ball, he lost the first three games against a player who truly believed he could do what he hadn’t done in a long time.
Swiatek worked his way to the scoreboard, but Cornet never relinquished the lead and finished off the first set with a hard-hitting spike. She then left the court before the start of the second set, leaving Swiatek sitting in her chair and pondering her fate.
In the second set, Swiatek went back to Plan A and took a 2-0 lead, but before long he fell out of rhythm once again. At break point in game five, Cornet jumped over a second serve and landed a forehand down the line. Swiatek lowered his chin and walked to his chair for the change.
From there, the only question was whether Cornet could stay solid enough to cross the finish line. The answer came quickly.
“Usually when I come back I have some kind of plan and I know what to change,” Swiatek said. “I didn’t know here. He was confused. On grass courts, everything happens very quickly.”
Cornet won the next three games and 12 of the final 14 points.
“I didn’t waste it, but I just didn’t know what to do,” Swiatek said.
Swiatek will rest a little longer now. Before long, however, he will be traveling to North America for the hard court season. Clay still reigns supreme in his mind, but after he won the Miami Open in April, two weeks after winning Indian Wells, he said hard courts were a very close second.
Another streak could be in the offing. Few would be surprised. And if not, he will always be 37.