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HIGHLIGHTS: Swiatek wins her 32nd match in a row after facing early resistance

The towering edifice that Iga Swiatek has built from her 2022 season began to shake a little on Monday at Roland Garros.

The No. 1 seed missed shots—39 of them—that she hadn’t missed in weeks. She hesitated where she had been decisive. She stayed back at the moments when she had been charging forward. She let her opponent hang around in the match, instead of steamrolling to a lopsided victory, which has become her custom. She was unhappy with her shoes and her strings, and her over-amped player box. For the first time in 37 days, she lost a set.

There was a good reason for Swiatek’s frustration. The 19-year-old on the other side of the net, Zheng Qinwen, was proving to be every bit as formidable as she had looked in her first three matches in Paris. Zheng matched Swiatek’s power and shot-making creativity. She pinned her back with deep returns. And she didn’t go away or show a hint of nerves or negative emotion. Each time it looked as if Swiatek would finally put her away in the first set, Zheng would catch up again. She saved five set points, and came back from 2-5 in the tiebreaker, to win the opener.

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In the early stages, Zheng matched Swiatek’s power and shot-making creativity. She also saved five set points before snagging the first set.

In the early stages, Zheng matched Swiatek’s power and shot-making creativity. She also saved five set points before snagging the first set.

But that was all she would win. Swiatek settled down and stopped hesitating early in the second set, and won the first three games. Then Zheng called the trainer and had her left thigh strapped. Unable to move the way she had been, she lost the second set 6-0. After stripping off the strapping in the third set, she became a little more mobile, but never enough to be a serious threat again. Swiatek won 6-7 (5), 6-0, 6-2.

Her 2022 had wobbled, but it hadn’t fallen down, and her win streak was extended to 32.

“It wasn’t easy to find solutions and to find other tactics and to do something differently, because I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong,” Swiatek said. “She was playing really fast balls, and it wasn’t easy to loosen up, because I felt a little bit tense.

“I speeded up a little bit my forehand. Maybe that was the solution.”

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Afterward, Zheng said her thigh had been a problem, as well as “girls’ things”—stomach cramps. Yet she was still the story of this match. Through the spring, she had gradually revealed her shot-making prowess and her impressive weight of shot; today she put her game up against the WTA’s best and more than held her own. Suddenly, at a time when the women’s tour has suspended its relations with China over Peng Shuai’s disappearance, the country appears to have a bonafide future star.

“I felt on my racquet today that she can play some really heavy topspin,” Swiatek said of Zheng, “and I feel like if she’s going to use it the right way she can really be a great player.”

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The tour's dominant No. 1 was tested today—but she still won a set 6-0. Swiatek will face Jessica Pegula next, in the quarterfinals.

The tour's dominant No. 1 was tested today—but she still won a set 6-0. Swiatek will face Jessica Pegula next, in the quarterfinals.

What does Swiatek’s slight slip from the heights of perfection mean for her going forward? Will tension continue to build as she gets closer to the title? Or will she relax a little now that she has survived a scare, and shown she can still win without playing flawlessly? Her next opponent, the ever-steady and improving Jessica Pegula, will offer a different challenge than she faced today.

“I’m taking a lot of confidence in my comeback in the second set,” Swiatek said. “So I think it’s important that I had this kind of match, which is kind of like a cold shower, and it reminded me how to find these solutions after losing a first set.”

“I feel when I’m gonna take some positives from it, I think it’s going to give me a lot before the next matches.”