PARIS – The loss of one set by a player is normally not the stuff of headlines at a Grand Slam tournament. That did constitute news at the French Open on Monday, because the player was No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek and it had been more than a month since that happened to her.
The way it came about was noteworthy, too: She led the first set of her fourth-round match against 74th-ranked Zheng Qinwen of China 3-0, then 5-2, and was a point from claiming it on five occasions but could not seal the deal. Swiatek entered the day having won 20 sets in a row, and 48 of her preceding 49.
All that truly mattered, in the end, was that 2020 champion Swiatek would not lose another set on this cloudy evening, getting past the hard-swinging Zheng 6-7 (5), 6-0, 6-2 to return to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and run her winning streak to 32 consecutive matches.
“I'm pretty happy I could come back after a pretty frustrating first set when I had the lead,” Swiatek said. “Pretty happy with myself that I'm still in the tournament.”
Swiatek regrouped by changing tactics — she sped up her forehand instead of absorbing Zheng's power — and in a less conventional way, too, deciding to change her tune. No, really: She switched which song she was singing in her head during the match.
“It was Dua Lipa,” Swiatek said, “so kind of a guilty pleasure.”
She has won her past five tournaments, going unbeaten since February for the WTA's longest such stretch since Serena Williams compiled a 34-match run in 2013. With 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams absent from the tour for nearly a year, and Swiatek's predecessor atop the rankings, two-time major winner Ash Barty, having recently retired, there is no dominant figure in women's tennis to mount a challenge.
Next to try to stop Swiatek will be 11th-seeded Jessica Pegula, who advanced to her third major quarterfinal — and first in Paris — with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, who was fined $10,000 last week when she threw her racket and it bounced into the stands, brushing a child in a front-row seat.
Pegula, owner of a 2-3 record at Roland Garros before this year, saw two sides to taking on Swiatek, who beat her on a hard court at the Miami Open in March.
“Sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t play her in the quarterfinals. I wish I played one of the other people and didn’t meet her so early,'” Pegula said. “But at the same time, it’s a great chance to have a great win and a great story.”
The other women's quarterfinal Wednesday will be between two Russians: No. 20 Daria Kasatkina and No. 29 Veronika Kudermetova. They were teammates on the team that won the Billie Jean King Cup last year — Russia was barred from trying to defend that title because of the country's invasion of Ukraine — and have known each other since they were kids, squaring off as juniors as long ago as 2011.
Pegula, whose parents own the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres, joins two other American women in the quarterfinals.
Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old seeded 18th, and Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up, face each other on Tuesday, when the other women's matchup will be No. 17 Leylah Fernandez, a 19-year-old from Canada, against 54th-ranked Martina Trevisan of Italy.
The most-anticipated men's quarterfinal will be the 59th career meeting between defending champion Novak Djokovic and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal on Tuesday night. Also Tuesday, No. 3 Alexander Zverev plays No. 6 Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain.
Men's matches Wednesday are No. 7 Andrey Rublev against 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, and Holger Rune, a 19-year-old from Denmark, against No. 8 Casper Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway. Cilic swept past 2021 U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in Monday's last match, adding the departure of the men's No. 2 seed to that of No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier in the day. With Rune, who eliminated 2021 runner-up Tsitsipas 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Alcaraz still in the field, it's the first time in 28 years that two teens made the men's quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament.
Zheng is 19, and Swiatek is just 20. Both are capable of playing like veterans.
Zheng, though, said she found it “tough to show my level,” because of stomach cramps and an issue with her right leg, which was taped by a trainer during a medical timeout at 3-0 in the second set. That was during a span where Swiatek grabbed eight straight games.
When it ended, Swiatek screamed “Come on!” and shook her right fist as she looked at the excited faces in her guest box.
“For sure, these matches are emotional for everybody,” she said, “because they are tight and not easy.”
Been a while since that was the case for her.
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