While showing flashes of the precision and power that has fuelled her ascension to World No 1, Iga Swiatek carried her dominant streak to Wimbledon in a victory over the qualifier Jana Fett that also underlined that another, more challenging chapter of her winning run is now underway.
The 21-year-old from Poland did not need to be near her peerless best after running away with the opening set without losing a game. In turn, the Centre Court crowd got behind the Croatian Fett and a much more competitive following set ensued, with Swiatek overcoming a slight wobble and a loss of focus to close out a 6-0 6-3 victory in 75 minutes.
It was Swiatek’s first match of the grass-court season and still, the end result was decisive and completely familiar. Swiatek has now won 36 matches in a row – the longest on the WTA Tour this century and since the era of Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf. Although adding to the streak suggests a continuation of her dominance this season, Swiatek is far more likely to view it as a new start.
Of the previous 35 wins, 19 came on hardcourts, 16 on clay, and now there is a first on grass. Upon arriving at the All England Club after taking time off following her victory at Roland Garros, Switaek said she is still in the process of trying to “figure out” the surface, and there was as much of that at work than competitive match-play as the two-time French Open champion opened the schedule on the second day of Centre Court. On this evidence, there is more work to do as she faces the challenge of transitioning from clay.
Much was made of the All England Club’s decision to opt for Swiatek in the opening slot that would have been taken by defending champion Ash Barty and this was a match that took time to warm up and even then struggled to live up to its billing.
In fairness, there were tough conditions. Swiatek more than once looked up into the sky when serving towards the royal box, as the midday sun pointed down and a blustering wind whipped around Centre Court. It made serving a challenge but when the ball was in play Swiatek did not take long to dissect Fett from behind the baseline in the early exchanges. Fett blinked into the sun as a double fault surrendered a break point in her opening service game and Swiatek did not hesitate to take it.
By the next time Fett emerged she not only faced the sun but the impending fate of becoming the latest player on tour to be served up a fresh bagel from the Swiatek bakery. Fett dug in but Swiatek was unrelenting in closing out her 17th 6-0 scoreline of the 2022 season.
It was another statistic that underlines just how Swiatek has all but lapped the field on the WTA Tour this season. In the rankings, her lead over World No 2 Ons Jabeur is larger than the gap between Jabeur and the World No 464. She has beaten most of her top-10 rivals, too, and so the opposition of Fett, a player stationed outside of the top-200, was unlikely to provide much resistance, but backed by a crowd desperate for a sniff of a contest, Fett momentarily staged a comeback.
In taking 17 of the first 23 points of the second set and breaking Swiatek’s serve twice, Fett found some confidence and restored a faint bit of hope. It urged Swiatek to fire some closing winners and readdress the ratio to her unforced errors. She finished with 10 to 15, in another sign that this was a far from pristine first outing. “We’ll see,” Swiatek smiled when asked how she was settling onto the surface. A one-sided scoreline by the most dominant player in the world may not have been as convincing as it seems, but it’s a start, at least.
Gauff escapes Ruse epic as Watson battles on
While Swiatek opened Centre Court, her defeated opponent in this season’s French Open final Coco Gauff made her Wimbledon return out on Court No 2. Tipped by many as a contender for the tournament where she made her breakthrough as a 15-year-old sensation in 2018, Gauff had to battle from a set down to see off the challenge of the Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse.
There was a real threat of a first-round exit during the tight and tense rallies deep into the deciding set. After she was denied five break points in the ninth game, Gauff eventually made her breakthrough at the next opportunity on the Ruse serve. A double fault from Ruse after an extraordinary 11th game of winners and knife-edge tennis was an unfortunate way to close it out, but from there Gauff closed out the 2-6 6-3 7-5 win in just over two and a half hours.
Elsewhere, Britain’s Heather Watson returned from last night’s interrupted match to wrap up a 6-7 7-5 6-2 comeback against Tamara Korpatsch. Watson, who was moved on Court No 1 for the final set of the match, will play Qiang Wang next after joining Emma Raducanu in the second round.
Katie Swan was defeated by Marta Kostyuk despite a valiant effort from the tournament wildcard. Swan took the opening set but appeared to be in pain as Ukraine’s Kostyuk fought back and claimed a 4-6 6-4 6-4 win on Court 18.
The fifth seed Maria Sakkari made short work of Zoe Hives in opening with a 6-1 6-4 win while the 2018 Wimbledon semi-finalist Jelana Ostapenka began her campaign with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Oceane Dodin.
Paula Badosa, the fourth seed, continued the strong performances from the top names as she brushed aside Louisa Chirico 6-2 6-1.