WIMBLEDON, England – Iga Swiatek, World No. 1. Wimbledon’s No. 1 ranked No. 1 on Saturday did something it hadn’t done in over four months. She lost the tennis match.
Swiatek, a 21-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion from Poland, lost 6-4, 6-2 to experienced Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in the third round, ending her 37-match winning streak, one of the longest in modern women’s tennis.
Swiatek, however, did not so much lose the match as Cornet won, and even emphasized it.
Playing with a strap on her left hip, Kornet swung hard, equaling Swiatek in strength and taking advantage of the Polish champion’s discomfort on grass.
After losing the first set, Swiatek seemed to quickly improve and take the lead 2-0. But Cornet played six games in a row, and Swiatek lost the last point, hitting the right into the center of the goal.
Swiatek shook hands with her opponent, quickly put away her rackets and headed for the exit of Hall 1. 1, where just two days earlier she had been pushed to three sets by an unknown relative.
She waved and gave the thumbs up to the crowd as she walked, then stopped to sign autographs before leaving.
The result seemed familiar to Cornet. In 2014, she beat Serena Williams, then world No. 1. 1 and the best seed in the tournament, on the same No. 1 court.
However, this was relatively early in her career. Eight years later, in just 93 minutes, she pulled off another monumental upset and won the second week of a Grand Slam for the second time this year. Then, appropriately, she compared herself to another French favorite.
“Like good wine,” she told the crowd. “Aging well.”
However, the day was dedicated to Swiatek.
Anyone who has ever picked up a racket knows the basic saying about the game: it’s hard to win a tennis match, but incredibly easy to lose. A few false shots, a bad quarter-hour serve, the briefest loss of concentration, and one set and then another slip away in a matter of minutes. Hopelessness sets in, and getting off the court as quickly as possible may seem like the best and only alternative, even though it isn’t.
However, it was not hopelessness that led to Swiatek’s death on Saturday. It was Cornet. A fearless adversary can be just as fatal.
This is just part of what has made Swiatek’s success in the first half of this year, in an era of women’s tennis, when competition heats up from the first round of almost every tournament, so wonderful.
Svyatek lost to Latvian Elena Ostapenko. 16th place in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Tennis Championship. She has since won six consecutive singles titles, including her second French Open. She has won three tournaments at the Masters 1000 level, just below the Grand Slams.
In March and April, she won the so-called Sunshine Double – BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, and the Miami Open. Only three other women have done it before. At the French Open, she lost just one set. Other players have spoken of simply trying to get past the one hour mark on the court with her. Many have failed.
Swiatek, though, has always believed that grass court season could mean the end of her streak. She is most comfortable taking balls on the rise and using her top spin and strength to stalemate opponents from the very first moments of the match.
After winning the French Open in early June, she was faced with a choice: play a warm-up tournament or two to feel more comfortable on her least favorite surface, or take a break and arrive at Wimbledon feeling refreshed. She decided to take a break and hoped that her incredible confidence would help her solve the grass puzzle. This is not true.
In practice, her time was off. In matches, balls skimmed the grass instead of bouncing back into her strike zone, taking away her most powerful weapon, that topspin power, from her quiver, forcing her to play more conservatively.
On Saturday afternoon, she returned to Plan A in an attempt to knock Cornet off the court. Unable to control the ball, she lost the first three games to a player who genuinely believed he could do something he hadn’t done in a long time.
Swiatek rallied on the scoreboard, but Cornet never lost her lead and ended the first set with an expressive overhead shot. She then left the court before the start of the second set, leaving Swiatek sitting in her chair and contemplating her fate.
In the second set, Swiatek returned to plan A and pulled ahead with a score of 2:0, but soon fell out of the rut again. At break point in Game 5, Cornet hit the second pitch and hit a right down the line. Swiatek lowered her chin and walked over to her replacement chair.
From that point on, the only question was whether the Cornet could stay strong enough to cross the finish line. The answer came quickly.
“Usually when I come back, I have some kind of plan and I know what needs to be changed,” Swiatek said. “I didn’t know. I’m discouraged. Everything happens so fast on grass courts.”
Cornet won the next three games and scored 12 of his last 14 points.
“I didn’t tank, but I just didn’t know what to do,” Swiatek said.
Svyatek will now rest a little. However, she will soon travel to North America for the hardcourt season. Clay still reigns in her memory, but after winning the Miami Open in April, two weeks after winning Indian Wells, she said the hard courts were a very close second.
Another band may not be far off. Few will be surprised. And if not, then she will always have 37.