Swiatek Triumphs In Roman Holiday Fashion

Iga Swiatek (photo: @InteBNLdItalia/Twitter)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May16, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

No one could have imagined that Sunday’sfinal of the WTA 1000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, which featured two players who saved match points en route to reaching the championship match at Rome’s Foro Italico, would be so one-sided.

After all, reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek saved two match points to beat Barbora Krejcikova in the round of 16 while Karolina Pliskova saved three match points to defeat Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals.

While both players excelled on clay in the Eternal City this week and Pliskova has thrived in Rome for three years running, winning the 2019 title and reaching consecutive finals the past two years, you can toss it all out. That’s because Swiatek was utterly dominant in the title match against Pliskova. The 19-year-old Polish teenager, who turns 20 at the end of the month, dropped just 13 points on her way to a 6-0, 6-0 victory that lasted just 46 minutes.

“For sure, it’s not easy to win 6-0 in the first set,” Swiatek admitted during a post-match interviews with Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj. “You always have doubts before the second set because you know the opponent can play better.

“I had the proper mindset. I’m really proud of myself that I could keep that for the whole match.”

It’s hard to fathom that Swiatek, playing in just her seventh WTA tour-level clay event, could replicate the level she showed last fall at Roland Garros when she strung together seven consecutive straight-set victories. Yet, she did just that. Against Pliskova, she hit 17 winners to just five unforced errors, converted six of eight break points and outpointed her opponent 51-13, losing just four points in the first set and nine in the second. Five of Swiatek’s six service games were won at love and she lost just three points on her serve, winning 25 of 28 points. Meanwhile, Pliskova hit just one ace, committed six double faults, produced only five winners and piled up 23 unforced errors.

“When my coach told me it was 6-0, 6-0, I was, like, Really? Isn’t that a mistake?” Swiatek said during her virtual press conference. “When I was on the breaks, I was visualising that I’m starting that match from the beginning every time. Actually, I did that so well that I didn’t even know that it was 6-0 in the first set. … The key is just to not to think about it and just, you know, play. Because when you’re gonna think about the score, you can actually ruin your mindset and ruin your attitude.

From the beginning of the final, played under cloudy skies on Campo Centrale, Swiatek came out ready to play. Her level of intensity was solid and she was focused from the very first game, staying in the moment. Pliskova might have been better off staying in bed.

While Swiatek fired on all cylinders and jumped out to a double-break 4-0 lead just 12 minutes into the contest, Pliskova was hitting returns aimlessly wide and long and her serve abandoned her as well. By the end of the 22-minute first set, the rout was on and Swiatek didn’t let up a bit as the second set developed much like the first one.

It wasn’t until Swiatek’s second service game of the second set, by which time she was well on her way to the title – ahead 6-0, 2-0 – that she finally surrendered a point on her serve. In that very third game of the second set, she saved the only two break points she faced from Pliskova. The closest the Czech No. 1 got to holding serve was the final game, when she garnered a couple of deuce points before surrendering on Swiatek’s first match point, which ended with Pliskova hitting the fifth shot of the final rally aimlessly long.

Nobody expected a short day at the office – especially in a championship match – in which the outcome produced a double-bagel result. However, by the end of the afternoon, Swiatek lifted the third trophy of her young but thriving career – all of them coming since her breakthrough at last October’s Roland Garros and each revealing a desire to excel and improve. Pliskova was reduced to embarrassment, but praised Swiatek during the trophy ceremony.

“Definitely not the best day in the tournament for me,” Pliskova said, “but Iga played great tennis. So, all congrats to her and her team.”

Later, during her virtual press conference, Pliskova was honest and didn’t hide behind her performance.

“She really made it extremely difficult for me to do any point and just to play like anything from my game,” Pliskova admitted. “She was playing super fast. I thought she was just going for it. I think she had amazing day and I had horrible day.”

While there will be better days ahead for Pliskova, Swiatek’s comprehensive victory – filled full of incredible tennis – means she will break into the WTA Top 10 come tomorrow for the first time. She leaves Rome with another big trophy – to go with last year’s French Open title and her triumph earlier this year in Adelaide – after winning the most dominant final of the season. Best of all, Swiatek begins her title defense in Paris in two weeks.

“[My self-belief] is really high, but you’ve got to remember that we’re human,” Swiatek said. “So, it’s not always going to be on the same level. I had tough moments [earlier] and it wasn’t easy at the beginning of the tournament. The key is just to relax and don’t be scared. Day after day, I felt my game was getting better. I didn’t know if it was enough to win a tournament. I’m really happy that I had good people around me and gave me good energy. I’m really proud of my team and that I could keep going. It was tough.”

Alternates Fichman and Olmos win doubles title

Alternates Sharon Fichman of Canada and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico, who were added to the doubles draw as a replacement for the team of Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Jennifer Brady of the United States, won the Rome doubles title with a 4-6, 7-5, 10-5 victory over unseeded Kristina Mladenovic of France and Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic Sunday evening. The title match on Grand Stand Arena lasted one hour and 35 minutes, in which Fichman and Olmos outpointed Mladenovic and Vondrousova 72-69, taking advantage of four breaks of service.

Earlier Sunday, Fichman and Olmos advanced to the final with a 6-3, 6-2 semifinal win over Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who were seeded fourth.

En route to their first title this season, Fichman and Olmos won four of their five matches in match tie-breaks. In the second round, they upset the No. 1 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Elise Mertens of Belgium, 1-6, 6-4, 10-4.

By the numbers

• According to the WTA website, Sunday’s double bagel result was the first to decide the Rome title. It was also the most one-sided Italian Open since 1983, when Andrea Temesvari beat Bonnie Gadusek 6-1, 6-0. The last double bagel in a WTA final came in 2016 in Bucharest when Simona Halep beat Anastasija Sevastova.

• Iga Swiatek’s win-loss record in finals at all levels is now 16-3 – 3-1 at WTA tour-level; 7-0 in ITF events and 6-2 in junior level.

• According to the WTA Insider, the 13 points surrendered by Iga Swiatek was  the fewest points lost in a completed WTA final at the Premier 5, Premier Mandatory, WTA 1000 level. The revious low was 24 points, set by Serena Williams in her 2015 Miami win over Carla Suárez Navarro.