Wimbledon, England -- Iga Swiatek was up 4-0 when, suddenly, inexplicably, she was down. Just beyond the baseline, her feet got sideways and Swiatek slipped, executing an almost perfect faceplant.

The Court No.1 crowd gasped, but she gingerly pushed herself up to the prone position, drawing relieved applause. It was more embarrassing than dangerous. To be fair, this was the first match of the fortnight, when the grass is at its juiciest. You could actually see a few dark gashes, skid marks, where the players’ feet dug in particularly hard.

Ultimately, Swiatek found her footing and advanced Monday to the second round with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Zhu Lin. On Wednesday, Swiatek will face Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Swiatek hit 22 winners, more than three times as many as Zhu, and saved three of four break points. 

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A three-time champion on the red clay at Roland Garros, Swiatek is undeniably the best on clay among Hologic WTA Tour players. When she reached the semifinals in Melbourne in 2022 and followed that up with the US Open title last summer, she checked the hard-court box. Similar success on grass, although it’s a relatively small sample, has been elusive.

To date, her best effort at the All England Club is the fourth round in 2021. This is the only major in which she’s failed to reach the quarterfinals. Swiatek’s now 10-5 for her career on grass, a winning percentage (66.7) that is far lower than on clay (87.5) or hard court (74.6).

“Grass court season is so short, it always becomes a priority kind of before the grass court season,” Swiatek said Saturday. “Throughout the whole year, I’m not really thinking about that.

“For sure, deeply, I believe the best players, they can play on all surfaces. I want to become that kind of player who can play well on grass as well and feel comfortable there. I’m doing my best to just work on my skills.”

The funny thing? Her only Grand Slam title as a junior came on the lawns at Wimbledon. Unseeded, Swiatek defeated Leonie Kung in straight sets. In 2021, she fell to Ons Jabeur in the fourth round here, and last year, after winning in Paris, she lost in the third round to Alize Cornet.

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“Last year, I felt a lot of pressure here because I was No.1,” Swiatek said. “That was the first year where I could just focus on practicing, actually learning a lot. So hopefully I’m going to be able to use that in my matches. For sure, getting used to the grass was always a tricky part because when you play well on Roland Garros, then you have less time to prepare for Wimbledon.”

After winning Roland Garros in June, Swiatek won three matches in Bad Homburg before withdrawing from the semifinals with a viral illness.

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“Throughout the whole season, it’s hard for me to think about grass,” Swiatek said. “I was actually thinking last year that maybe it would be good, doing part of the preseason on grass. Only the idea is pretty crazy because still we have, like, four or five weeks of preseason usually right now when you play the [WTA] Finals.

“If I would have more time to play on grass, I’m pretty sure that I would be able to play better and better.”

When Swiatek was asked what, specifically, she was working on for grass play she quickly named footwork.

“Because that’s, I think, where my strength is on other surfaces,” she said. “For sure, sliding is tricky here so you have to slow down and stop before the shot in a different way. I feel like if you have time to adjust to the surface and then use your intuition on matches, I was able to do that a little bit in Bad Homburg.”

Before this year's Wimbledon, Swiatek and her team reconstructed her run-up to this event in 2022. 

"I remember we did a lot of things that were connected to touch and slices, getting back slices," she said Monday.  "I think it's great. That's kind of what Agnieszka Radwanska was using a lot, what my coach kind of taught me that last year.

"This year, I feel like we did more in terms of just like my baseline game, but also footwork, I think, because I just had more time to try all these things that I practiced on matches in Bad Homburg." 

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Swiatek idolizes the Spanish champion Rafael Nadal and has borrowed a number of his signature components -- not least, the hyper-drive, topspin forehand. When Nadal lost to Roger Federer in the 2007 Wimbledon final, a thrilling five-set match, Nadal sobbed afterward in the locker room. He told his coach and uncle, Toni, he might never find himself with that kind of opportunity at the All England Club.

A year later, already with four Roland Garros titles, Nadal broke through, defeating Federer in an epic five-set match. He was 22. Swiatek, also 22, has three French Open titles and is keen on following Nadal’s trajectory on grass.

In some ways, Nadal’s success on clay -- he has won a record 14 titles at Roland Garros -- made it more difficult to transition to grass. In his early years, he was positioned far behind the baseline and too willing to play the long game, hoping his superior conditioning would prevail.

With lower-bouncing balls on grass, he learned to creep closer to the baseline to take time away from opponents and shorten points. And, against his nature, the risk-averse Nadal began hitting bigger serves that play so well on the faster surface, earning more free points.

“I played so well [last year] in Roland Garros that I [felt] I should play well here as well,” Swiatek said. “But it’s different. Your brain has to kind of feel the ball is bouncing lower. You can’t think about things like that during the match. So I think this year, it’s going to be a little bit easier for me to use my intuition a little bit more.

“I think it’s going to be fine.”