FORT WORTH, Texas -- Up a break to open the second set, Iga Swiatek suddenly found herself in a love-40 hole. Her response? She won five straight points -- replete with the requisite fist pumps -- to go up 2-0.
That in a nutshell was how Thursday’s round-robin match went against Caroline Garcia.
The final score was 6-3, 6-2. Swiatek improved to 2-0 at this year’s finals and advanced to the knockout stage as the group winner. Kasatkina and Garcia will play for the No.2 spot on Saturday.
How did Swiatek handle the pressure from the always-aggressive Garcia?
“Don’t cry?” she said jokingly in her on-court interview. “Because, yeah, she was putting a lot of pressure and putting a lot of speed on her balls. I was ready for that.”
More than ready. In the queasy moments with break points in play, Swiatek was masterful. She saved five of the six Garcia managed to force -- and converted four of five against Garcia’s serve.
Back on July 29, Garcia defeated Swiatek 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Poland Open. And while the World No.1 was feeling the unsubtle pressure of playing in her home country, it was a season-altering victory for Garcia.
Swiatek had won 20 matches against the rest of the singles field here at the WTA Finals -- the only loss was to Garcia, who was a mere handful of points better. They came into Thursday’s confrontation with similar records going back to that match: Swiatek was 17-4 (81 percent) and Garcia 16-5 (76 percent).
Based on that recent history, this momentum-fueled matchup promised to be one of the best among the round-robin matches. It didn’t turn out that way.
“The thing is, you have to take some time away from her,” Garcia said in her post-match press conference. “Try to be aggressive, to push her out of her comfort zone. But most of the time, she does it better than you. She really strong, really solid, doesn’t give you a lot of unforced errors.
“As soon as she gets a little bit more space or more of an angle, she makes you feel you’re slower, playing bad, whatever.”
After splitting two matches in both Toronto and Cincinnati, Swiatek is starting to look like the player who won 37 straight matches earlier this year. She won all seven matches at the US Open -- her third major title and the first that wasn’t on clay. After losing a long three-set final in Ostrava to Barbora Krejcikova, Swiatek won the San Diego Open and came into Fort Worth with 14 wins in her past 15 matches.
Thursday’s win was Swiatek’s 14th win of the year against a Top 10 opponent. Through two matches here, she has dropped 10 games and has been broken once.
40 - Iga Swiatek has won 40 of her first 45 matches as the number 1 in the world, as many as Justine Henin: in 2000s, only Serena Williams had more wins during her first 45 clashes as #1 (42/45). Throne.@WTAFinals @WTA_insider @WTA pic.twitter.com/P2GVfZSMgR— OptaAce (@OptaAce) November 3, 2022
After her first round-robin victory, Swiatek talked about how the No.1 ranking has, by necessity, brought more maturity to her approach.
“For sure, I am trying to focus more,” Swiatek said. “It’s my goal in this tournament, because in San Diego I felt like I needed to lose on set to get to a different level of focus – maybe because I was tired. But here, I feel like I can just give it all in.
“It’s the last tournament of the season and I have nothing to lose. I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do next. For sure, I’m committed 100 percent physically and mentally as well.”