Before Monday’s first-set tiebreak, Iga Swiatek stopped for an unscheduled tire change, swapping out her clay-clotted blue Asics for some fresh rubber. Two unsuccessful points in, she swapped out her tired Tecnifibre racquet for a new stick.
It didn’t work. Dropping a set for the first time in 37 days against a determined 19-year-old named Zheng Qinwen, Swiatek quickly moved to Plan B. That would be Dua Lipa, the charismatic British pop star with a mezzo-soprano range.
“I realized in the first set when I was really focusing on that technical stuff it didn’t really work,” Swiatek told reporters later. “I got more and more tense when I couldn’t do that and why I couldn’t really prepare to the shot the best way.
“I was singing in my mind, basically. It was Dua Lipa, so kind of a guilty pleasure.”
Singing in the reign, Swiatek won the next eight games, suddenly sprinting to a 6-7 (5), 6-0, 6-2 victory. It was the 32nd consecutive win for the World No.1, and her reward is a Wednesday quarterfinal match against No.11 seed Jessica Pegula. One of three Americans in the quarterfinals, Pegula also rallied and defeated Irina-Camelia Begu 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
The match against Zheng underlined how quickly things change in professional tennis. Two years ago, it was a 19-year-old Swiatek upending No.1 seed Simona Halep in the fourth round of the fall version of Roland Garros. Two years later, it appeared another teenager might prevail again.
“She was playing really fast balls, and it wasn’t easy to loosen up,” Swiatek said. “I felt like I was a little bit in trouble. So in the second set I just kind of wanted to focus more and not really talk to the box maybe that much. And honestly, I speeded up a little bit my forehand. Maybe that was the solution.”
Swiatek and Pegula have met twice before with Pegula winning three years ago in Washington D.C. and Swiatek prevailing a few months ago in the Miami semifinal, 6-2, 7-5.
Pegula had been seen primarily as a hard-court player, but put in the extra offseason work, adding some spin and variety to her game with an eye to performing better on clay. After reaching the quarterfinals of the past two Australian Opens, she’s into her third major quarter. Pegula was a finalist in Madrid and has won 12 of her 15 matches on clay in 2022. She is getting very close to cracking the Top 10.
With three more match wins, Swiatek would collect her second Roland Garros title – and equal Venus Williams’ longest streak of this century, 35 straight match wins. For those of you counting at home, she’s won 50 of the past 52 sets. Swiatek, who turned 21 on Tuesday, could become only the fourth woman this century to win multiple French Open titles, following Justine Henin (four), Serena Williams (three) and Maria Sharapova (two).
Swiatek hasn’t lost since she became the No.1 player back in March following the retirement of Ashleigh Barty. While there have been moments when the pressure can be seen in her face, as against Zheng, there is an upside, too.
“I really enjoy when I have a request about what hour I want to play and they are actually listening,” Swiatek said. “That’s nice.”
No.20 Daria Kasatkina vs. No.29 Veronika Kudermetova
Kudermetova has already reached five quarterfinals this season, surpassed by only Swiatek and Ons Jabeur.
Kudermetova lost to Halep in the Melbourne 250 final, Jelena Ostapenko in the Dubai final, Paula Badosa in an Indian Wells quarterfinal and Anastasia Potapova in the Istanbul final. All of her tormentors are gone from this French Open draw, and Kudermetova remains, where Daria Kasatkina now awaits.
Kudemetova, a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 fourth round winner over No.22 Madison Keys, is enjoying her best run at a major. Oddly enough, she came into Paris on a three-match losing streak.
Meanwhile, Kasatkina has won 10 of her past 12 matches after defeating No.28 Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-2. Those two losses came to Sara Sorribes Tormo in Madrid and Jabeur in Rome.
Maiden Slam quarterfinal coming 🆙— wta (@WTA) May 30, 2022
Veronika Kudermetova comes from a set down to defeat 2018 semifinalist Keys 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Will face Kasatkina for a place in the last four at #RolandGarros! pic.twitter.com/hCmg9Ptu7W
There’s something about the fourth round of majors that agrees with Kasatkina; in 26 Grand Slam main-draw appearances, she’s been there four times now and won the past three: 2018 Roland Garros (Caroline Wozniacki), 2018 Wimbledon (Alison Van Uytvanck) and – nearly four years later – Giorgi.
“Inside of me I think I didn’t change anything, I hope I stayed the same person,” Kasatkina said of the four-year sabbatical. “Maybe a little bit more mature. I hope that I grew up a little bit. Yeah, I’m happy to be back in the quarters because it's kind of like a benchmark. I’m happy to achieve this one again.”
After saving all six break points against Giorgi, Kasatkina has remarkably dropped only two service games in four matches.
Kudermetova has issued 23 aces in four matches. She also leads the Hologic WTA Tour with 22 doubles victories. She and Elise Mertens are the No.2 seeds.
Kasatkina and Kudermetova, both 25, have met only once at WTA level, last year in St. Petersburg. Kasatkina won in a disjointed three sets, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“And many times in juniors,” Kasatkina said. “We played so many times. Even before we played many Europe championships together because we’re same age, so we have a lot of memories to share. We will see, maybe we will have one more, playing quarters at Roland Garros. I think it’s a very nice moment.”