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Iga Swiatek cements herself as the one to beat in New York

An array of 'bagels' and 'breadsticks' in her opening week at the US Open show why Iga Swiatek is still the favourite in New York.

Iga Swiatek has dropped just nine games on her way to the fourth round of the US Open (Image: Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription)
Iga Swiatek has dropped just nine games on her way to the fourth round of the US Open (Image: Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription)

By Oli Dickson Jefford, Sportsbeat

Head to New York, and you will probably want to try a bagel.

Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to buying one in the city - Google suggests there are over 200 specific bagel shops in New York, alongside the standard cafe and supermarket fare.

If you are planning a trip to the US Open, though, it would be wise to keep your money in your pocket or save up your pennies for a Honey Deuce cocktail; the famous Polish bakery products are currently being served up free of charge.

Iga Swiatek may not love jokes about ‘Iga’s Bakery’ as much as some but if she keeps winning sets without conceding a game, such comments won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

This year alone the world No.1 and defending US Open champion has won 20 ‘bagel’ sets, two coming in New York in what has been an assured start in her quest for back-to-back titles.

She swept aside Rebecca Peterson for the loss of just one game in round one and - after a marginally tougher second round against Daria Saville - she defeated best friend Kaja Juvan 6-0 6-1 to reach the second week.

With friends like Swiatek, Juvan probably doesn’t need any rivals. The Slovenian was looking to reach the fourth round of a Slam for the first time, but saw her dreams dashed in a mere 49 minutes.

These two won Youth Olympic gold together as doubles partners five years ago but there was not much Olympic spirit on display out on Court Louis Armstrong, Swiatek delivering the kind of ruthless performance now expected from her - followed by a warm embrace at the net.

“I really just wanted to focus on myself and I think also because I knew that it's going to be a little bit harder for me to focus because she's my best friend,” said Swiatek afterwards.

“I was actually more focused than usual. I'm happy that I could do that and I was fully professional."

It’s difficult to imagine that the 22-year-old could be more focused than she often appears, strutting around at the back of the court as if she owns the place. More often than not, she does.

That level of focus has seen Swiatek win four Grand Slam titles and spend 74 straight weeks at No.1 since first rising to top spot last April, often winning extremely comfortably.

Some say she is the best at dominating sets since Steffi Graf, others say she is the most impressive world No.1 since Serena Williams, and while she has a way to go to emulate those two legends, it’s easy to see why such comparisons are being drawn.

Swiatek was still, for many, the favourite heading into the US Open but was perhaps not the popular pick - look to Americans Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula for who the home fans want to win.

Fifth seed Gauff and third seed Pegula have both beaten Swiatek on their way to big titles this summer and are - alongside second seed Aryna Sabalenka - her main threats this fortnight, but neither player can match her pedigree.

Gauff’s win over Swiatek in Cincinnati was her first in eight matches, and the Pole should be the favourite if they meet in the quarter-final, while Pegula would have to get over her Grand Slam quarter-final jinx – six defeats and counting - to get a shot at toppling her in the final.

There may have been doubts heading into the tournament but in dropping just nine games in three matches, surely she has answered the questions.

Swiatek may well lose at this tournament, and Sabalenka will take her No.1 ranking if she goes one round better than her, but realistically the Pole is still a step ahead of the chasing pack.

She has, admittedly, been reeled in slightly this season - with an Australian Open fourth-round loss to Elena Rybakina, and a Wimbledon last-eight loss to Elina Svitolina - but no one can still match her all-round tour consistency.

Swiatek may not have had the headline slots at Flushing Meadows so far, but she is certainly still the star attraction in this women’s draw.