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Swiatek defies Kenin to battle into second round

  • Gill Tan

Iga Swiatek secured safe passage to the second round of Australian Open 2024 on Tuesday, the world No.1 advancing with a hard-fought 7-6(2) 6-2 win over AO 2020 champion Sofia Kenin.

MORE: All the scores from Day 3 at AO 2024

It’s not going to get easier for Swiatek: the top seed is in a tough quarter that featured five other major champions at the start of Day 1. Even so, the 22-year-old is oozing confidence.

“I can't say that I have [an] easy draw here,” she said on Tuesday.

“[But it] doesn’t matter who I’m playing against – tennis is a pretty tricky sport where with these draws, you can play former champions, former world No.1s, really experienced players. You never know who it’s going to be, you have to be ready no matter what.”

On Tuesday, Swiatek took 1 hour and 51 minutes to seal victory in her first clash against Kenin since the Roland Garros 2020 final, which the Pole won in straight sets to capture the first of her four Grand Slam titles.

“[I’m] really happy,” said the relieved top seed. “It wasn’t easy at the beginning to find my rhythm, and I felt a little bit off. Huge respect to her, she won this tournament so she knows what to do."

Swiatek struck 30 winners in total to her opponent's 18. 

The first set was tight on Tuesday, but Swiatek warmed to the task

“I’m happy that I managed to get my level up in [the] second set," she said.

“The temperature was higher than any match I played this season. I needed to adjust to that, [as] the balls were a little bit flying out of control."

Kenin, the world No.41, came out of the blocks swinging. Armed with a compelling return game and fearless groundstrokes, the 25-year-old broke Swiatek twice in the first set. 

While Swiatek appeared frustrated to be tested by her rival, the Pole stepped up when it mattered. She recaptured a crucial break as Kenin served for the first set at 5-4 before dictating play during the ensuing tiebreak, forcing errors off both wings with relentless power and brilliant placement.

In the second set, Swiatek remained under pressure but was able to squash each of Kenin’s three break point chances, in part because she found her first serve.

“I really appreciate the support, that’s one of the reasons that I’m doing this, to play for you guys,” Swiatek told cheering fans at Rod Laver Arena, many who were donned in red and white and waving Polish flags.

Swiatek once again credited AO 2022 champion Ash Barty for motivating her to add tools to her game that have since vaulted her to the top of the sport, describing the Australian as a “huge inspiration”.

“I don’t know if I would be world No.1 if she was still playing,” admitted Swiatek.

“I have more variety because I started practicing this kind of stuff just to be able to play against her, getting back slices and everything.”

With her victory over Kenin, the 22-year-old Swiatek became just the eighth WTA Tour player to amass multiple streaks of 17 or more wins, joining an exclusive cohort that includes Serena and Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Victoria Azarenka, Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova – all of whom are past AO champions.

This season, she’ll be aiming to reproduce or extend the 37 win-streak that was snapped at Wimbledon in 2022.

Streaks aside, Swiatek’s progress is being closely followed by her peers. Before the tournament, Angelique Kerber said she’s eager to watch the Pole’s career evolve.

“I'm also looking forward [to see] how she will go in the next few years, how good she can be in the next years, like Serena maybe,” said the three-time major champion.

As for her tricky draw, the popular Pole admitted that she hasn’t looked past the second round, where Danielle Collins awaits. The AO 2022 finalist eliminated AO 2016 champion Kerber in three sets on Tuesday afternoon.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

The American may have won just one of their six contests, a memorable bout in the semifinals at Melbourne Park two years ago, but Swiatek is prepared.

“Danielle is a really good player, we’ve played really tight matches,” said Swiatek, with a caveat that she had their last encounter – a 6-1 6-0 drubbing at the Cincinnati Masters – very much “under control.”  

“Every match is different, I'm not going to anticipate anything. I'm just going to be ready and we'll see.”

Collins knows the scale of the challenge ahead. “Iga’s game speaks for itself, she kind of has all the tools, her athletic ability and talent – it’s hard for everyone," the American said.

“Hopefully I can have one of my best days on court – [against] the best players, you have to bring your best.”