The Insider Wrap is a weekly recap of everything you need to know from the week that was. This week, WTA Insider looks back at the 2021 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where two match-point saving champions were crowned in the Eternal City.
Performance of the Week: Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek captured her third WTA title by putting on a 46-minute masterclass in the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where she defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 to capture her second title of the season. The reigning Roland Garros champion now holds two of the three biggest clay-court titles on tour and Monday made her Top 10 debut.
Seeing Swiatek dominate a tournament is nothing new. When her game is on, she offers a puzzle that few have been able to solve, particularly on her favorite surface. Her breakout run to the Roland Garros title last fall was one of the most dominant Grand Slam title runs in Open Era history. She lost just 28 games across seven matches and did not come close to losing a set.
En route to her second career title, at the Adelaide International in February, Swiatek again looked impervious. She did not lose a set and lost just 22 games, the most dominant title run of the 2021 season so far.
Iga Swiatek came into the Rome final already having notched the most dominant title run this year, winning @AdelaideTennis with just 22 games lost.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 16, 2021
She leaves #ibi21 with the most dominant final of the year, losing just 13 points to defeat Karolina Pliskova 60 60 in 46 minutes. pic.twitter.com/TPFQXXYNeM
What makes Swiatek's Rome run different is not the way it ended but how it started. She found herself down 1-4 in the first set to Alison Riske in the first round. In the second round, she struggled in the first set against Madison Keys, coming back from 3-5 down and having to save a trio of set points. Then came the third round, where Swiatek had to save two match points to defeat Barbora Krejcikova, 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5. To watch Swiatek through the first three rounds was to see a player struggling and frustrated that her free-flowing effortless game was so ... effortful.
After saving match points to defeat Krejcikova in the Round of 16, Swiatek admitted that this was not a match she would have won a year ago.
"Usually in this situation I was the kind of person that was kind of giving up mentally," Swiatek said. "Today, even though I wasn't feeling completely perfect on court, I had some issues as well, I could manage everything and just win points.
"Maybe it wasn't like my style, but the most important thing I was just winning point by point and just trying to stay in the game."
We already know that Swiatek can play near-perfect tennis to plow through the field and lift the trophy. That she's now learning to win ugly is a true achievement unlocked.
Surprise of the Week: Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos
Rome crowned not one but two match-point saving champions (three if you include men's champion Rafael Nadal). Fichman and Olmos moved into the doubles main draw after Ashleigh Barty and Jennifer Brady withdrew and proceeded to tear through a tough draw to win their biggest career titles.
There's more to the Canadian-Mexican duo's story than that. Read it all in their own words in the Champions Corner.
It's important to preach patience when it comes to the young American's career. At 17 years old, she should be given the space to work on her game, take losses, and grow in experience without the weight of expectations and desire for immediate success. The excitement around the prodigious teen should be about the long game.
But when she puts in a week like she had in Rome, making her first WTA 1000 semifinal with wins over Yulia Putintseva, Maria Sakkari, Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka, and pushing eventual champion Swiatek in the first set of their first career meeting in the semifinals, and it's very hard to temper the excitement. And seeing her clean up the double faults that have plagued her at times over the last year felt like a big step forward.
After serving 12 DFs vs. Karolina Pliskova in a 1R loss in Madrid, Coco Gauff put in the reps on her serve.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 14, 2021
Gauff is averaging 1.3 DFs in Rome, down from her season average of 6.2.
She has won 69.8% of her service games this week, up from her season average of 57.3%. #ibi21 pic.twitter.com/qZtFZgRf0j
The Czech took her 46-minute loss on the chin after the final, but emphasized that there was no reason for it to erase all the good work she had done over the week. The World No.9 has been steadily improving over her past few events since Miami, and it all came together in Rome, which has become her most successful event. Pliskova saved match points against Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals and made her first final since Rome last fall. Knowing Pliskova, the loss won't linger for too long.
Petra Martic and Francesca Schiavone
Having added the 2010 Roland Garros champion to her coaching box after Miami, Martic proceeded to make her first WTA 1000 semifinal. Martic has reveled in Schiavone's philosophy of accepting mistakes and errors, which balances out Martic's perfectionism. The Croatian's game is coming together just in time for the French Open, where she was a quarterfinalist in 2019.
She may never be a clay-courter, but when given Pegula's level in 2021, surface doesn't seem to matter much. Pegula says her confidence on clay has grown after tallying wins over Sorana Cirstea and Daria Kasatkina, and she outplayed Naomi Osaka to upset the World No.2 in straight sets in the second round. The win was Pegula's fifth Top 10 win of the season and paved the way for her fourth big quarterfinal of the year (Australian Open, Doha, Dubai, Rome).
The Latvian was a point away from making her biggest semifinal since 2018 Wimbledon and her level throughout the week was notable. With wins over Johanna Konta, Ajla Tomljanovic, and tough 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 battle with Angelique Kerber, there are enough signs that the big hitter is heating up at just the right time.
The former World No.2 is back in the Top 100 after scoring her first Top 10 win on clay in over 11 years, coming through as a qualifier and defeating Petra Kvitova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the second round.
6: Teenagers to make their Top 10 debut since 2008. Swiatek is the fifth, joining Bianca Andreescu, Belinda Bencic, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Three players have come from MP(s) down to win a title in 2021:— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 16, 2021
Naomi Osaka, @AustralianOpen (saved 2MPs vs. Muguruza, R16).
Ashleigh Barty, @MiamiOpen (saved MP vs. Kucova, 2R).
Iga Swiatek, @InteBNLdItalia (saved 2MPs vs. Krejcikova, R16). pic.twitter.com/UqbNLdEWeC
13: Points lost by Swiatek in the Rome final, the fewest lost in a completed final at the Premier 5, Premier Mandatory, or WTA 1000 level.
12: Points lost by Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-0 win over Viktoria Kuzmova in the third round of the 2019 Madrid Open. This is the fewest number of points lost in a main draw match (any round) at the Premier 5, Premier Mandatory, or WTA 1000 level. Swiatek's 13 points lost in Rome is the second fewest.
Since 2000, 4 WTA Finals have ended 6-0, 6-0.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 16, 2021
Two of them have been tallied by Poland’s finest:
2006 Quebec City: Bartoli d. Puchova
2013 Sydney: Radwanska d. Cibulkova
2016 Bucharest: Halep d. Sevastova
2021 Rome: Swiatek d. Ka.Pliskova pic.twitter.com/ZnV47c1sUh
11: Matches played against Top 20 opposition in 2021 by Ashleigh Barty, Jessica Pegula and Veronika Kudermetova, the most on tour.
2021 Most Matches vs Top 20 Opponents (W-L)
Pic of the Week: Iga Swiatek and Rafael Nadal
🤩This is me and Rafa just casually showing his quads...— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) May 17, 2021
Just kidding. You're so kind @RafaelNadal, thank you for taking the time before the match.
🤩Oto ja, Rafa i jego udo...
A poważnie, dziękuję życzliwość, klasę i czas poświęcony przed meczem na zrobienie sobie tego zdjęcia. pic.twitter.com/smqsDV0qQt
Quote of the Week: Coco Gauff invoking the power of anime during her 7-5, 6-3 win over Aryna Sabalenka.
"I just finished watching Demon Slayer. The main character, Tanjiro, he has this breathing technique right before he fights. When I get nervous, I notice that slowing down my breathing helps me a lot.
"Honestly, today I could say at least five to 10 times I was in my head. You got to do the Total Concentration Breathing that Tanjiro does. I probably wasn't doing it like him, but it definitely helped on those match points, before both match points. I was, Okay, I got to do the water breathing like him. It did. Shout out to Demon Slayer for helping me."