Wimbledon: Reluctant superstar Iga Swiatek digs deep to extend win streak

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A reluctant yet humble superstar, Iga Swiatek remained on course at Wimbledon to bring up a staggering 37th consecutive victory.

Far from her vintage best, the Pole is now contending with both lofty expectations and the history books. Her opponent, merely a ‘lucky loser’, sensed an opportunity to write her own story into both the women’s game and this most decorated of championships. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove defied her lowly ranking, No 138, in what is just a third Grand Slam appearance, tying Swiatek in knots with the help of a blustery Court One.

The 21-year-old, ever willing to sprinkle her charm on those around her, conceded her Dutch opponent harnessed the conditions better. But after prevailing in a little over two hours, this was not the time to completely celebrate her exquisite game, even though there were flashes of the brilliant, contorting strokes and angles that have brought the WTA under her spell throughout such a spectacular 2022.

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It was time to cherish what the game still has across this fortnight and how delicate this moment really is. Because Pattinama Kerkhove momentarily found lightning in a bottle and threatened to end Swiatek’s run and push her a little too close to Serena Williams, Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray, all victims to early departures this week.

There have been groans at the dwindling starpower left at this Championships, but those disappointed ought to take in this most dominant of runs from a player whose box of tricks can suit all surfaces. Entering today’s second-round match against on 36 straight wins, including 19 scalps on hard courts and 16 more on clay.

But such is Swiatek body of work, that this run is not solely about winning a third Grand Slam and imagining a date back on Centre Court next Saturday. With every win comes further debate about her standing among the titans of women’s tennis. The longest streak of Serena Williams (34 in 2013) and Venus Williams (35 in 2000) are now in the rearview mirror, while one more win in the third round against Alize Cornet will give her the longest run of victories since 1990.

Swiatek labelled the Williams sisters as “legends”, while refusing to associate herself with such company, yet even without acknowledging her own greatness, she could soon leave an equally impressive legacy.

Swiatek’s refreshing personality, filled with honesty, saw her laugh at the inconvenience of today’s schedule, placing herself alongside her idol Rafael Nadal on opposing courts. “Let’s make it quick,” she remarked, hoping to sneak over to catch the legendary Spaniard in action on Centre Court against Ricardas Berankis. But in Pattinama Kerkhove, she found a nuisance not willing to allow her to put her feet up so soon.

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There were early signs of mild irritation at the creases in her game after tossing a spare ball away after losing her footing at the baseline, which would become a theme. It provided Pattinama Kerkhove encouragement with a second break in just five games.

But her irritation brought out more aggression to her game, including a hammered smash in the first set that resembled an ace. While her trademark neat footwork, shuffling into mid-range, enabled her to whip a forehand across her body to move clear and eventually clinch a close first set.

But this ‘lucky loser’ from Goes, Netherlands defied expectations, pushing her illustrious opponent to reach deep. Pattinama Kerkhove’s angles complimented the sheer power to force Swiatek to adjust, kneeling momentarily in the second set with real torque to the subsequent shot put past her opponent.

But just as this match was following the script drafted before a ball was hit, the underdog capitalised on a series of erratic Swiatek serves. A break and hold secured, the Dutch player was on the brink of extending the contest to a deciding set.

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Swiatek, a little riled at her sloppy tennis, refused to gift-wrap the set for her opponent, efficiently holding to shift the pressure once more. Pattinama Kerkhove’s double fault and a wayward stroke looked to underline the magnitude of the moment, but she rallied to stun Swiatek and move within a set of one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.

There was soon immense relief for Swiatek at the start of the third; a vital hold after two break points saved inspired a fist pump. And the most revealing moment of the match arrived in the fourth game of the decider: Swiatek sliding, without much control, sent a bullet of a shot back as Pattinama Kerkhove closed in on the net, which died just in time to bring up break point. Swiatek would not to be denied and seized the opportunity before closing out the contest.

A reprieve for the world No 1 then, but a reminder to cherish such a special player and a historic run while it lasts.



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