ROME, Italy -- World No.1 Iga Swiatek and 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu are set to face for the first time on the Hologic WTA Tour in the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
Round of 16 highlights: Swiatek d. Azarenka | Andreescu d. Martic
Here's what you need to know ahead of their encounter in Rome:
1. Andreescu has been making great strides on clay
It's easy to forget that Andreescu played her first match in seven months just two tournaments ago. In Stuttgart, she won one match. A week later in Madrid, she won two. Here in Rome, where she's making her tournament debut, she's rattled off three wins without losing a set.
Undeniably one of the best hard-court players in the game, Andreescu is still a relative newcomer when it comes to clay. She played her first WTA main draw on clay just three years ago at the 2019 French Open. Coming into the 2022 season, she had won only five tour-level matches on clay in her career. Through Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome, she's already won six this year.
Andreescu's a quick learner. And she's already been studying Swiatek's game. After beating Nuria Parrizas Diaz in the second round, Andreescu said she wanted to play Swiatek as soon as possible.
"I've been watching Iga play, so I'm sure that's going to be pretty tough because she also likes to change the rhythm," Andreescu said. "She's a very strong fighter."
2. Swiatek's streak has not been a distraction
Swiatek has not lost a match since February, reeling off 25 consecutive wins and on a run of four consecutive titles: Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Stuttgart. Playing Rome as the defending champion -- she beat Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 in last year's final -- Swiatek is bidding for her fourth WTA 1000 title of the season.
After coming back from a double-break deficit to beat former No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-5, 6-1 in Thursday's Round of 16, Swiatek shrugged off her accomplishments.
Follow all the ATP and WTA Tour action!
Follow the latest from the action live! ATP WTA Live features real-time updates, scores and stats, and behind-the-scenes content...
"Really, I just want to get a better feeling on clay court," Swiatek said. "I'm not really focusing on the scores or something. I know Bianca can play a really solid game. I'm pretty happy that she's back because she has such a nice game. It's more variety for women's tennis."
No.1 Swiatek rested and ready for Rome title defense
Before the tournament, Swiatek said she was looking ahead to only her next match, not back to the ones she won, even if doing so should give her a boost of confidence. Into her fifth straight quarterfinal, she's not budging from that mindset.
"It doesn't really matter for me because every match is different," Swiatek said. "You could see that in many matches where I struggled this season, even though I won them. Anything can happen. Every match is a different story. I'm not really focusing on the stats."
3. Swiatek's win over Andreescu in juniors was an important one
Swiatek, 20, and Andreescu, 21, did face each other once, but it came in juniors. In the 2016 Junior Fed Cup, a 15-year-old Swiatek squeezed out a tough 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win. She went on to lead Poland to the Junior Fed Cup title.
"It was kind of a breakthrough match for me because after that we beat Canada, we played against Russia and States," Swiatek said. "It was the first match where I actually felt that I can do it and I can win with anybody, because she was also playing really solid game at that time. I remember I just was really proud of myself."
Back then, did Swiatek think they'd be two of the youngest major champions on tour in which both won their respective majors as teenagers?
"Honestly, there were some other players that were always on the top [in juniors]," Swiatek said. "I thought I'm a little bit behind so I didn't really imagine myself being at the top of the WTA. I mean, why would I? There are so many kids in Poland trying to succeed, and it's not that often.
"Bianca has the power, has the consistency when she's playing tournaments. It's not surprising for me."
4. Tactically, each has her own style
When Ons Jabeur was asked who has the best hands in the women's game, she gave shoutouts to a number of players before settling on one name.
"I'll go for Bianca," Jabeur said in Rome. "I like how she plays."
Andreescu bouncing back and finding her form on clay
Swiatek: “Bianca’s a great player. Watching her last year, it really struck me how much variety she has, the drop shots. It's really nice to watch her game. It's going to be a really exciting match, but for me the most important thing is to get more and more comfortable on clay." pic.twitter.com/ubA2pop0dw— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 12, 2022
In a similar vein, when Emma Raducanu was asked to highlight a player's underrated skill, she tipped her visor to the World No.1.
"One thing the viewers might not see is her unpredictability, the way she's able to take the ball anywhere and you can't really pick it up," Raducanu told WTA Insider in Stuttgart.
In other words, it's hard to know what to expect tactically when these two face off on Friday. Swiatek has relentless topspin power. Andreescu hits flatter and plays with more touch. Both are gifted with the imagination to see angles that don't seem to exist. Both can ratchet up the hitting to play more offensively or dial back their margins to play more contained tennis.
"[Iga] has this balance of being solid, but also very aggressive," Badosa told WTA Insider. "She opens the court very easily. When you hit hard to her, she finds space where there's no space and she can do a very good shot from there, sometimes from the middle or from the far corner. She has magic in her hands and that's why she's now No.1 in the world."
5. They had an amusing run-in earlier in the week in Rome
After reaching the third round, Andreescu's press conference immediately followed Swiatek's in the main interview room. Based on the layout, Swiatek had to pass through the room to leave the building after she wrapped up her media duties.
Here's how the moment played out in the transcript:
Q: I know movement is the most obvious adjustment players make on clay. What part of your game exactly do you adjust --
(Iga Swiatek passing through the interview room.)
Andreescu: Get outta here. You had your moment, c'mon [laughter].