No.1 seed Iga Swiatek survived a scare from qualifier Mai Hontama in the second round of the Toray Pan Pacific Open, coming from a double break down in the first set and a break down in the second to advance 6-4, 7-5 in 2 hours and 2 minutes.
Swiatek trailed the home favorite 4-1 at the start of the match, and also had to hold off a late fightback by Hontama, who pegged the Pole back from 5-1 to 5-5 in the second set. Making her debut appearance in Japan, the World No.2 advanced to her 13th quarterfinal of 2023 so far. She has only failed to reach that stage twice this season -- at the Australian Open and US Open, at both of which she lost in the fourth round.
"Winning five games in a row in the first set really showed me that I could play my game," Swiatek said afterwards. "It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I problem-solved and just got through the match."
No.148-ranked Hontama had only faced a Top 10 opponent once before, a 6-3, 6-2 loss to Garbiñe Muguruza in the 2021 Chicago quarterfinals. But the Japanese 24-year-old was coming into the match in surging form, having reached her first WTA semifinal in Osaka two weeks ago and then winning three matches in Tokyo without dropping a set, and presented Swiatek with a spirited challenge throughout.
Swiatek will next face No.8 seed Veronika Kudermetova, who defeated Kayla Day 6-3, 6-3 in 1 hour and 26 minutes to reach her ninth quarterfinal of the year so far, and first since Berlin in June.
東レ PPO テニス 2023— 東レPPOテニス (@torayppo) September 27, 2023
2023年9月27日(水) センターコート 第4試合
本玉 真唯選手(JPN) #maihontama
How the match was won: Hontama took full advantage of a slow start by Swiatek, who struggled for control over her groundstrokes in the early stages and ultimately finished with 41 unforced errors to 21 winners. Terrific defense from the local player enabled her to break the former World No.1 twice and leap out to a 4-1 lead.
It was Swiatek's defense that secured her turnaround, though. A marvellous extended exchange at the start of the fifth game, in which the four-time major champion came up with a pinpoint lob, kickstarted a change in momentum that saw her reel off 10 of the next 11 games to lead 5-1 in the second set.
Those numbers bely the challenge Hontama still presented throughout this passage of play, though. Swiatek still had to survive several multi-deuce tussles and a series of crowd-pleasing winners from Hontama, who briefly led by a break at the start of the second set.
The grit evinced by Hontama also meant that her late charge was unsurprising. Swiatek failed to serve out the match at 5-1 thanks to a slew of cheap errors, and a resurgent Hontama rattled off a series of winners to take the next four games -- even saving two match points serving at 4-5.
Ultimately, though, Swiatek managed to steady herself just enough to get over the line. In the latter stages of the second set, she had lapsed into a more passive approach, allowing Hontama to go on the attack. But this paid off in the final game as Hontama began going for too much, sending a backhand into the net on Swiatek's fourth match point.