CANCUN, Mexico -- Champions invariably create their own momentum.
Down 5-2 in the opening set and looking out of sorts, Iga Swiatek swiftly steadied herself and went on to defeat Marketa Vondrousova 7-6 (3), 6-0. In a meeting of 2023 major champions, Swiatek’s deep, forceful strokes bested Vondrousova’s customary guile.
Swiatek finished in a blur, winning the last four games of the first set, the tiebreak and all six games in the second.
Lifted by a supportive crowd in Estadio Paradisus, Swiatek swept to an early lead in the Chetumal Group that includes three of this season’s four Grand Slam winners.
“Honestly,” Swiatek told reporters, “even in the first part of the match I wasn’t feeling like I was playing bad. I just felt like I was making mistakes on the last shots within the rally. I felt that there was, for sure, room for improvement, but I didn’t need to change a lot. So I just wanted to be more precise and more solid … not play risky.”
+20 - Iga Swiatek is the first player to win more than 20 sets with a 6-0 scoreline for consecutive seasons since Steffi Graf and Monica Seles (1991-1992). Baker.#WTAFinals | @WTA @WTA_insider @WTAFinals pic.twitter.com/7qkaOjHWAN— OptaAce (@OptaAce) October 30, 2023
The 22-year-old from Poland is now 3-0 versus Vondrousova and has the most career victories over the WTA Finals qualifiers, as well as the most match-wins this year, nine.
Before the tournament began, Vondrousova said she would try to impose her “annoying” game and, for the first seven games, it worked beautifully. With many of her groundstrokes falling well inside the service box, she baited Swiatek into errors on the forehand side.
And Swiatek’s service game? Don’t ask. After four tries, she had 0 aces and three double faults and lost 15 of 26 points. She was broken three of four times and her body language indicated a growing level of frustration.
But as the “Vamos Iga”s began to spill out of the stands, Vondrousova began to fade, hitting two double faults to lose her serve. Swiatek, buoyed, went on to win 12 of 15 points. The critical shot was a backhand winner down the line to level it at 5-all; it was the longest point to the time, and the best, too.
After Vondrousova managed to force it to a tiebreak, she won the first two points, employing her drop shot effectively. But Swiatek came back to win seven of the last eight points -- the final blow a Vondrousova double fault. It was a 64-minute set, the most competitive singles frame to date.
“After the ball change, I felt like I was playing in a better rhythm,” Swiatek said. “Maybe that was something that also helped me switch the mindset a little bit. I also thought even if the set is going to go wrong, I can come back in the second."
Swiatek wound up breaking Vondrousova six times and her meaningful measureables came into some semblance of order. She finished with 19 winners and 22 unforced errors. Vondrousova had only six winners and 23 unforced errors.
“I was 5-2 up and she started to play better,” Vondrousova said. “She didn’t give me much of a chance after. The second set, she was playing really amazing -- there was nothing much to do.”
While left-handed players can create difficulty for right-handers unaccustomed to playing them, Swiatek has no such issue. She's 7-0 against lefties this year -- and 14-for-14 in sets.
The No.1 ranking is still a possibility for Swiatek, although she must make the final to have a chance.