Women’s wrap: Swiatek strong, Muguruza flies, Venus hobbled

  • Reem Abulleil

After pulling off an impressive 6-2 6-4 victory over Italian power-hitter Camila Giorgi in the second round of Australian Open 2021 on Wednesday, Iga Swiatek gave a shout out to her sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz on court – an apt choice considering the Polish teen had just spent 80 minutes showcasing a great deal of mental strength.

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The reigning Roland Garros champion has spoken openly about the difficulty of dealing with the pressure of expectations as a new Grand Slam winner on the scene. But her mature performance against Giorgi suggests there isn’t much to be concerned about.

Facing an opponent who crushes the ball on every opportunity, the 19-year-old Swiatek was wise with her shot selection, playing with angles when possible, getting very low on her backhand, and coming up with big serves to cancel out break points.

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Overall, she saved 5/6 break points and matched 17 winners to 17 unforced errors to set up a third-round meeting with France’s Fiona Ferro, who upset the 17th-seeded Elena Rybakina.

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“Honestly it’s pretty hard. I’m pretty ambitious so I have my own expectations, so I have to deal with them, as well as the other expectations from outside,” Swiatek said on court when asked about the aftermath of her breakthrough at Roland Garros.

“I’m working on that with a psychologist at big tournaments and in the preseason, so I feel like I’m doing a good job. It’s always hard after a win like that, but I guess I have nothing to lose. I just want to enjoy being on court and try not to think about the outside world when I’m here.”

When signing the camera lens after the win, Swiatek wrote, ‘I don’t know what to write’. It doesn’t matter; she can just keep letting her racquet do all the talking.

Aryna’s back in business

Over on Margaret Court Arena, seventh-seeded Aryna Sabalenka survived a turbulent first set en route to a 7-6(5) 6-3 win over familiar foe Daria Kasatkina to move into the last 32.

The pair were squaring off in the second round for a second consecutive slam and produced an entertaining affair that gave Sabalenka her 17th victory from her past 18 matches.

Sabalenka, who arrived in Australia on the back of winning three titles in a row (Ostrava, Linz, Abu Dhabi), is searching for a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal this fortnight.

Her 15-match win streak was halted last week by Kaia Kanepi in the Gippsland Trophy, but the Belarusian swiftly got back to her winning ways with two solid performances so far at Australian Open 2021.

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Kasatkina, who was trying to claim back-to-back Grand Slam match-wins for the first time since 2018, led 3-1 and served for the opening set at 6-5, but Sabalenka found a way to rally back and managed to secure the lead despite hitting a whopping 30 unforced errors. That count went down considerably for Sabalenka in the second set as she wrapped up the win in 89 minutes.

Her reward is a third-round meeting with 20-year-old American Ann Li, who was a finalist at the Grampians Trophy last week and is an impressive 16-3 on hard courts since Cincinnati last August.

Garbi on a mission

Meanwhile, playing on back-to-back days at a major proved to be no problem for last year’s Australian Open runner-up Garbine Muguruza, who eased past Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 6-3 6-1 to book a third-round date with Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas.

The 14th-seed was given a later start to the tournament compared to others on her side of the draw due to the fact she played the Yarra Valley Classic against Ash Barty on Sunday.

That slight adjustment to the schedule meant Muguruza had to play her opening two rounds on consecutive days – a non-issue for the Spaniard who has dropped just four games in each of her first two matches.  

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“I just had to adapt,” said the two-time major champion.

“I felt like, okay, this is how I have to do this year. I was just kind of match after match after match, like a regular tournament kind of.

“I feel like now it's back to Grand Slam mode.”

Injury heartache for Venus

Elsewhere, difficult scenes unfolded on John Cain Arena when Venus Williams suffered an injury while down 1-5 in the opening set against Sara Errani.

The 40-year-old American rolled her ankle while attempting to return a shot from her opponent and screamed in agony from the pain. She received two medical timeouts for her ankle and her knee but was still limping on court upon resumption of play. Errani wrapped up the opening set moments later as she broke Williams’ serve.

Her movement still hampered, Williams refused to quit, and although she couldn’t win another game en route to a 6-1 6-0 defeat, she won the respect of her opponent and fans worldwide for showing so much heart in choosing to complete the contest.

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Williams battled on bravely after her first-set ankle injury

“I’m not really happy to win like that. I was so sorry for her. She’s a really good champion, it’s an honour for me to play against her in such a good stadium,” Errani said on court.

The Italian qualifier next takes on Hsieh Su-Wei, conqueror of eighth seed Bianca Andreescu earlier on Wednesday.