Everything seemed so easy for Iga Swiatek last season – two Grand Slam trophies, eight titles in total, a 37-game winning streak, a long stay at No. 1 in the rankings.
These accomplishments have everyone expecting constant greatness from Swiatek, which she can do nothing about. They also changed the way she approached the big moments, and a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in Sunday’s Australian Open fourth round has Swiatek wondering if she needs to reassess her perspective.
“I felt like I took a step back in terms of how to approach these tournaments, and maybe I wanted a little too much. So I’m going to try to relax a little more,” said Swiatek.
“I felt the pressure and I felt like ‘I don’t want to lose’ instead of ‘I want to win’.”
Letting your racket do the talking 🤫
Therefore, there will be no clash between Swiatek and seventh seed Coco Gauff in the quarter finals at Melbourne Park. Instead, it will be Rybakina taking on 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Gauff, with a semifinal berth on the line.
“I kept her under a lot of pressure,” Ostapenko said.
Both 22nd seed Rybakina, a 23-year-old representing Kazakhstan, and 17th seed Ostapenko, a 25-year-old from Latvia, made it this far in Melbourne for the first time.
“There were moments in the game where I was frustrated because normally I can solve problems, but today I feel like I didn’t have a lot of answers for what she was doing,” said Gauff, an 18-year-old from Florida who was runner-up to Swiatek at the French Open last June.
“There were balls I hit deep, and she hit the line and hit deep, over and over again,” said Gauff, who wiped away tears during his press conference. “It’s just one of those days that it just didn’t go my way and it went her way.”
One key: Ostapenko went 3 for 3 converting his half-time chances, and Gauff only went 1 for 8 in such situations.
Rybakina, meanwhile, used her big serve to produce half a dozen aces, part of an overall 24-15 lead in total winners against Swiatek.
The women’s fourth rounds scheduled for later on Sunday were: No.
In men’s action, 13th seed Karen Khachanov reached the quarterfinals by beating No. 31 Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0, 6-0, 7-6 (4), setting up a matchup against No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz or No. 29 Sebastian Korda, who played in the afternoon.
Other men’s matches on Sunday: No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. At the. 15 Jannik Sinner, and No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Unseeded Jiri Lehecka.
Until Sunday, Swiatek and Gauff looked pretty dominant for a week, winning every set they played. Swiatek lost a total of just 15 games, Gauff just 19, in three matches.
“Of course, when you play the No. 1 I don’t think you really have anything to lose. I knew I had to be aggressive from the first ball because she’s a great mover and defends really well,” said Rybakina. “So I was just trying to attack her from the first ball, and it really worked out well.
His ranking of 25th does not adequately reflect his skill or results because his All England Club championship in July did not come with any ranking points. The WTA and ATP tours withheld all points at Wimbledon in 2022 after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus from participating because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Despite her major champion status, Rybakina has been out of the limelight: her first-round match at Melbourne Park was put into Tiny Court 13 last Monday; her match against two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza at at least the year’s US Open was on Court 4.
But her game deserves a lot more attention, as she demonstrated by knocking out Swiatek, one match after defeating 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.
Swiatek was not at his best, and Rybakina had a lot to do with it. In the opening game, Swiatek led 40-love but broke. In the next, Swiatek held two break points at 15-40, but failed to convert either. So early on, although it turned out to be 2-2, it might as well have been 4-0 in Swiatek’s favour, and she called that run “a little disturbing”.
Rybakina ended up serving that set in love, finishing with an ace of 183 km/h, and her dangerous backhand helped a lot too: she produced six winners from that wing in the first set, compared to zero for Swiatek.
In the second set, Swiatek seemed to have put himself back on track, going up 3-0. But that wave didn’t last long and Rybakina won six of the last seven games of the match.