On the surface, not much has changed for Iga Swiatek from her title run nearly eight months ago at Roland Garros. She’s navigated her way to the fourth round with few hardships.
While 12 of the top-seeded 16 players failed to reach the second week at the French Open, Swiatek doesn’t want to hear about it.
“I don’t care that many seeds have pulled out or already lost,” Swiatek said after her second-round victory. “I don’t think about it. We see that so many players can win a Grand Slam, not having so much experience. I had that situation. Many young players are actually winning and taking the confidence from every match, and actually getting more experienced in a tournament.”
For her fans, that mindset has to be music to their ears. Speaking of which, the one notable routine she has switched up this year is her pre-match playlist.
A year ago, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses was her go-to choice. This year …
“It's Led Zeppelin,” Swiatek said. “So similar kind of music but different band. … I just started listening to rock, and I was like browsing, and I liked them.
“I think I started listening to them more when I watched ‘Thor.’ Yeah, I listened to them even a few years ago, and I watched ‘Thor’ in Australia, so yeah.”
Swiatek, who has failed to drop a set through three matches, takes on unseeded and world No.81 Marta Kostyuk on Monday.
“I think we played once in juniors, but I'm not sure actually,” Swiatek said of Kostyuk. “Probably it was like at the beginning of my junior career. But really I'm not sure.”
Swiatek conceded she hasn’t watched Kostyuk this week, but that her coach, Piotr Sierzputowski, is doing his due diligence in formulating Swiatek’s game plan.
“I was just focused on my match against Anett [Kontaveit],” Swiatek said. “But obviously my coach is going to do a great job. He's really good at tactics, so I'm feeling safe.”
18-year-old Kostyuk is a junior prodigy in her own right and had no problem recalling her only encounter with Swiatek in juniors, which came at a Grade 1 event before the 2017 Australian Open. Swiatek won the Grade 1 event, but Kostyuk took home the girl's title in Melbourne.
"All I remember is that honestly, she killed me," Kostyuk said. "She beat me like 6-3, 6-3 but I was pretty tired by the end of the tournament, I wasn't really feeling it that day. I was like, okay, I'm not even going to fight because I have a Slam, and Slam is more important. So see? I had the right feeling.
"I played her once, never practiced with her. I know she's a very aggressive player and you have to be aggressive with her, as well."
The Swiatek-Kostyuk contest is among three fourth-round matches scheduled for Monday. Here’s a look at the rest:
No.24 Coco Gauff vs. No.25 Ons Jabeur
The 17-year-old American advanced Saturday when No.13 Jennifer Brady – citing a lingering bout of plantar fasciitis and a bone bruise to her foot – retired after losing the first set 6-1.
For Gauff, she became …
- The youngest seed at a Grand Slam and the youngest to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros in 15 years (Nicole Vaidisova, 2006)
- The youngest American to reach the fourth round in Paris since Serena Williams in 1998.
Gauff can also say she has now reached the third round at all four majors.
“Obviously she’s an incredible talent,” Brady said. “She’s definitely continuing to climb the ranks, improve her game. She’s really good. Yeah, I wish her all the best.”
Said Gauff, “I just feel like I’m getting better and better with each match, and that’s kind of how I want it to happen. And I will say this is probably, like my journey to it, has probably been the most professional. Like no unnecessary three-set matches. I think that you can tell that I’m improving and making smarter decisions on the court.”
Considering Gauff is only 17 years old, she’s seen a lot of opponent Jabeur. This will be their fourth meeting – in 10 months.
Jabeur won the most recent, 6-3, 6-3, in the quarters of the Volvo Car Open back in April. But Gauff won the previous two matches in 2020, in Lexington and Rome.
“I think what makes it different with Coco,” Jabeur said in her post-match press conference, “is mentally she’s strong. She never gives up or lets the pressure get her. I think her being surrounded by probably Serena and Venus helps her a lot to get into the game and other matches.
“She’s handling very well everything going on, and she deserves to be here. She deserves to even be a better ranked player. Also she’s nice outside the court, so it’s nice to have her.”
Gauff has already developed an astounding maturity, both physically and mentally.
“I just feel like when I first came on tour, I felt like I had pressure to win and do all this, because people came out with a lot of expectations for me, saying I was going to be the next this or next that,” Gauff said. “After having conversations with different coaches and different players that are on tour, I realized, I’ve just got to be myself and have fun on the court.
“I think now I’ve just been really appreciating these moments on tour because I have to remind myself, like, so many people are working hard to be where I’m at today. The least I can do is just enjoy it, because you never know when life is going to be taken from you, and I just want to really live it to the fullest.”
Sloane Stephens vs. Barbora Krejcikova
The only all-unseeded matchup in the top half of the draw, there is a vast difference in experience.
This is World No.59 Stephens’ 10th appearance at Roland Garros, a milestone she has yet to achieve at the other Grand Slams. She was a finalist in 2018, and her Parisian record is a tidy 28-9 after she sent off No.18 seed Karolina Muchova 6-3, 7-5 in the last round. It doesn’t seem possible for the 28-year-old, but this is Stephens’ seventh time in the second week.
Clay suits her game when she chooses to settle in and defend and use her power judiciously.
“Consistently making fourth round here has been kind of a staple for me, which has been great,” Stephens said. “Obviously one of my favorite tournaments of the year, so peaking here has always been really important. Obviously, yeah, 2018, but I think just the consistency of always doing well here has always brought back good memories.”
Up next is 33rd-ranked Barbora Krejcikova, who is Stephens’ third consecutive Czech Republic opponent (Karolina Pliskova, Muchova).
A week ago in Strasbourg, Krejcikova won her first WTA title. She reached the fourth round at the French Open last fall, and with partner Katerina Siniakova, they were the 2018 doubles champions – five years after they won the junior title.
Krejcikova and Stephens have never played.
No.4 Sofia Kenin vs. No.17 Maria Sakkari
If history repeats itself, this one could be a barnburner.
Sakkari won in three sets earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, but Kenin prevailed in both of their 2018 Grand Slam appearances, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Kenin has had a difficult, eventful season. She underwent an emergency appendectomy at the end of the Australian swing and struggled on clay coming in. She lost her first matches in Charleston, Stuttgart and Rome, but has found her footing in Paris, where she’s been to the Round of 16 three times in a row.
“I have great memories from here,” she told reporters after coming back to defeat fellow American Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. “I obviously cannot live on that. I have to try to move on. I just think I need to lock in and put that aside.
“That was last year. Try to make some new memories this year.”
Here’s her take on Sakkari: “I feel she’s one of the most energetic players on tour. Very fit. She fights out there. I’m just going to take what I had in Abu Dhabi. I started off great. Some percentages didn’t go my way and of course she lifted up her game and everything.
“So let’s hope that it’s going to be a bit better.”