It was all so easy for Iga Swiatek last season – two Grand Slam trophies, eight titles in total, a 37-match winning streak, a long stay at No. 1 in the rankings.
Those accomplishments have led everyone else to expect continued excellence from Swiatek, something she can’t do anything about. They also changed the way she approached big moments, and a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday had Swiatek wondering if she needed her attitude to reassess.
“I felt like I took a step back in how I approach the tournaments, and maybe I wanted it a little too hard. So I’m going to try to cool off a little more,” said Swiatek.
“I felt the pressure, and I felt “I don’t want to lose” instead of “I want to win.”
Letting her wreak havoc 🤫
So there will be no mishap between Swiatek and the No. 1 seed. 7 Coco Gauff in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park. Instead, Rybakina will face 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, a 7-5, 6-3 winner against Gauff, with a semifinal berth at stake.
“I kept her under so much pressure,” Ostapenko said.
22nd seed Rybakina, who is 23 years old representing Kazakhstan, and 17-seed Ostapenko, 25 years old from Latvia, won in Melbourne for the first time so far.
“There were moments in the game where I was frustrated, because I usually solve problems, but today I feel like I didn’t have a lot of answers to what she was doing,” said second-ranked Gauff, 18, from Florida. against Swiatek at the French Open last June.
“There were balls that I was hitting deep, and she was hitting them on the line and hitting them back deep, over and over again,” said Gauff, who was left in tears during her news conference . “It’s just one of those days where it didn’t go my way and it went her way.”
One key: Ostapenko went 3-for-3 converting her break chances, while Gauff was just 1-for-8 in such situations.
Rybakina, meanwhile, used her big serve to produce half a dozen aces, part of a 24-15 overall edge in total winners against Swiatek.
The women’s quarterfinals scheduled for later Sunday were: No. 3 Jessica Pegula vs 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka vs unseeded Zhu Lin.
In the men’s action, Karen Khachanov, the 13th seed, reached the quarterfinals by beating the No. 31 Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0, 6-0, 7-6 (4), setting up a meeting against No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz or No. 29 Sebastian Korda, who played in the evening.
Other men’s games on Sunday: No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs No. 15 Jannik Sinner, and No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime vs unseeded Jiri Lehecka.
Until Sunday, Swiatek and Gauff had looked quite dominant for a week, winning every set they contested. Swiatek dropped a total of just 15 games, Gauff only 19, three games.
“Definitely, when you play against No. 1, I think you really have nothing to lose. I knew I had to be aggressive from the first ball because she’s a great person, and she defends well ,” said Rybakina. “So I was trying to attack her from the first ball, and it worked really well.
His ranking as No. 25 her ability and results correctly as her championship at the All England Club in July did not come with any ranking points. The WTA and ATP tours have kept all points at Wimbledon back in 2022 after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus from participating due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Despite her status as a major champion, Rybakina has been out of the spotlight: Her first round match at Melbourne Park was played on Court 13 last Monday; her match against last year’s Slam Champion Garbine Muguruza was at least on Court 4.
But her game is worth a lot more attention, as she showed when she beat Swiatek, one game after beating Danielle Collins, runner-up at the 2022 Australian Open.
Swiatek wasn’t at her best, and Rybakina had a lot to do with that. In the opening game, Swiatek led to 40-love but was broken. In the next, Swiatek had two break points at 15-40 but failed either. So early on, even though it was 2-2 in the end, it could have been 4-0 in Swiatek’s favour, and she called that sequence “a bit of a shock”.
Rybakina ended up serving at love, capping it with a 183 kph ace, and her dangerous backhand was a big help, too: she hit six winners from that wing in the first set, compared to zero for Swiatek.
In the second set, Swiatek seemed to get herself back on track, going up 3-0. But that surge didn’t last long, and Rybakina took six of the last seven games of the match.