Reluctant superstar Iga Swiatek digs deep at Wimbledon to extend win streak

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Poland's Iga Swiatek returns to Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (AP)
Poland's Iga Swiatek returns to Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (AP)

A reluctant yet humble superstar, Iga Swiatek remained on course at Wimbledon to bring up a staggering 37th consecutive victory.

Far from her vintage best, the Pole is now contending with both lofty expectations and the history books. Her opponent, merely a “lucky loser’” sensed an opportunity to write her own story into both the women’s game and this most decorated of championships. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove defied her lowly ranking, No 138, in what is just a third Grand Slam appearance, tying Swiatek in knots with the help of a blustery Court One.

The 21-year-old, ever willing to sprinkle her charm on those around her, conceded her Dutch opponent harnessed the conditions better. But after prevailing in a little over two hours, this was not the time to completely celebrate her exquisite game, even though there were flashes of the brilliant, contorting strokes and angles that have brought the WTA under her spell throughout such a spectacular 2022.

It was time to cherish what the game still has across this fortnight and how delicate this moment really is, because Pattinama Kerkhove momentarily found lightning in a bottle and threatened to end Swiatek’s run and push her a little too close to Serena Williams, Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray, all victims to early departures this week.

There have been groans at the dwindling star power left at this championships, but those disappointed ought to take in this most dominant of runs from a player whose box of tricks can suit all surfaces. She entered yesterday’s second-round match on 36 straight wins, including 19 scalps on hard courts and 16 more on clay.

But such is the Swiatek body of work that this run is not solely about winning a third Grand Slam and imagining a date back on Centre Court next Saturday. With every win comes further debate about her standing among the titans of women’s tennis. The longest streaks of Serena Williams (34 in 2013) and Venus Williams (35 in 2000) are now in the rearview mirror, while one more win in the third round against Alizé Cornet will give her the longest run of victories since 1990.

Swiatek labelled the Williams sisters “legends”, while refusing to associate herself with such company. Yet, even without acknowledging her own greatness, she could soon leave an equally impressive legacy.

Swiatek’s refreshing personality, filled with honesty, saw her laugh at the inconvenience of today’s schedule, placing herself alongside her idol Rafael Nadal on opposing courts. “Let’s make it quick,” she remarked, hoping to sneak over to catch the legendary Spaniard in action on Centre Court against Ricardas Berankis. But in Pattinama Kerkhove she found a nuisance not willing to allow her to put her feet up so soon.

There were early signs of mild irritation at the creases in her game when she tossed a spare ball away after losing her footing at the baseline, which would become a theme. It provided Pattinama Kerkhove encouragement with a second break in just five games.

But Swiatek’s irritation brought more aggression to her game, including a hammered smash in the first set that resembled an ace, while her trademark neat footwork, shuffling into mid-range, enabled her to whip a forehand across her body to move clear and eventually clinch a close first set.

But this “lucky loser” from Goes, Netherlands, defied expectations, pushing her illustrious opponent to reach deep. Pattinama Kerkhove’s angles complimented her sheer power to force Swiatek to adjust, kneeling momentarily in the second set with real torque to the subsequent shot put past her opponent.

But just as this match was following the script drafted before a ball was hit, the underdog capitalised on a series of erratic Swiatek serves. A break and hold secured, the Dutch player was on the brink of extending the contest to a deciding set.

Swiatek, a little riled at her sloppy tennis, refused to gift-wrap the set for her opponent, efficiently holding to shift the pressure once more. Pattinama Kerkhove’s double fault and a wayward stroke looked to underline the magnitude of the moment, but she rallied to stun Swiatek and move within a set of one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.

There was soon immense relief for Swiatek at the start of the third: a vital hold after two break points saved inspired a fist pump. And the most revealing moment of the match arrived in the fourth game of the decider: Swiatek sliding, without much control, sent a bullet of a shot back as Pattinama Kerkhove closed in on the net, which died just in time to bring up break point. Swiatek would not be denied and seized the opportunity before closing out the contest.

A reprieve for the world No 1 then, but a reminder to cherish such a special player and a historic run while it lasts.

Katie Boulter stuns Karolina Pliskova to raise British hopes

As British hopes dwindled heading into day four at Wimbledon, Katie Boulter showed real grit and defiance to reinvigorate a nation with a huge upset on Centre Court.

New heights were seized with a third-round berth at the expense of Karolina Pliskova, last year’s beaten finalist.

Boulter’s audacious approach flashed early, but the experienced Czech appeared to tame her, harnessing a powerful serve to take a one-set lead.

But Boulter refused to fade and instead burns bright as a home favourite following a three-set triumph (3-6, 7-6, 6-4).

Great Britain’s No3 weathered a scrappy second set in which neither woman could hold serve across a four-game stretch, leaning on an array of bold strokes, peppering Pliskova’s backhand to grind her down across lengthy rallies.

A tense decider meandered towards a second tie-break but, in dramatic fashion, Boulter broke in the penultimate game, inheriting the ball to serve out the match and revitalise hopes of a British contender going into the second week.

Boulter will now play Serena Williams’ conqueror Harmony Tan, who looked impressive once again to dispatch the 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo (6-3, 6-4), with her match against Boulter sure to be one of the most in-demand matches on Saturday.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová is through, brushing aside Ana Bogdan (6-1, 7-6). Fellow champion Simona Halep, who triumphed at SW19 in 2019, beat Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets (7-5, 6-4), setting up a third-round meeting with Magdalena Frech.

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