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Defending champions Iga Swiatek and Rafael Nadal continue to amass notable numbers at the French Open
The 20-year-old is now 20-0 in her last 20 sets at Roland Garros; the 35-year-old is 16-0 in third-round matches.
Published Jun 05, 2021
WATCH: Rafael Nadal's footwork, in ASMR video.
The defending champions and practice buddies took their respective Roland Garros courts on Saturday—Iga Swiatek on Court Philippe Chatrier, Rafael Nadal on the second show court, Suzanne Lenglen—and then took their fans on scenic but ultimately successful journeys into the fourth round.
While that description implies both players experiencing degrees of struggle, struggle is very much relative to a 13-time tournament champion. Considering Nadal's career-long dominance in Paris, the fact that he even surrendered back-to-back breaks of serve to Cameron Norrie was noteworthy, even if those breaks came in the middle of a match he would comfortably win, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Norrie, ranked 45th and having entered Roland Garros after an commendable clay-court swing—quarterfinals in Barcelona, runner-up in Estoril, second round in Rome as a qualifier, runner-up in Lyon—did not shrink under the spotlight of the moment, or amidst the living legacy of his opponent. It may have helped that they’d already tangled on clay this season; Nadal beat Norrie 6-1, 6-4 in Barcelona. It may have also helped that Norrie is a fellow left-hander, which seemingly negates Nadal’s trademark southpaw advantage.
But that would be neglecting the damage Nadal’s backhand can inflict, particularly in this match-up.
“If not for Nadal’s forehand,” two-time French Open champion Jim Courier said on Tennis Channel, referencing a text he'd received from Andre Agassi, “we’d be talking about his backhand as one of the best ever.”
As if on cue, Nadal—having broken Norrie back both times in the second set, and then a third time to take the lead 5-3—sprinted to his right a set point, and rocketed a crosscourt backhand for an emphatic winner:
Nadal covered some ground over the course of two hours and seven minutes, but arrived at his destination safely. He’s now 16-0 in third-round matches at Roland Garros.
Swiatek has amassed some impressive stats of her own in Paris: in her last 10 French Open matches, she’s 10-0, all without losing a single set. Her latest win, over the dangerous Anett Kontaveit, included a 6-0 set—the second bagel she’s served this tournament, along with two 6-1 set wins.
Swiatek’s last eight sets on clay, which includes the Rome final: 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 7-5, 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-0.
The tiebreak set against the 30th-seeded Kontaveit was the first time since 2019 that Swiatek had even lost six games in a set on the terre battue. But it may have been as impressive as some of the more lopsided sets she’s doled out.
Withstanding a barrage of Kontaveit shotmaking off both wings, Swiatek did well to only trail the first six games by 4-2. Then, Swiatek began to justify the faith of many who believe that she’s just as strong a favorite on the women’s side as Nadal is on the men’s. She won the next three games, and 12 of the next 15 points, to get back on serve and lead the first set 5-4.
“That last game was important for Swiatek, to win it with authority,” noted the Roland Garros world-feed announcer calling the match.
Like Norrie, Kontaveit didn’t wilt as the underdog, even as the outcome gradually began to come into focus. The Estonian held at love for 5-5, and got to 15-30 in the next game on return. But Swiatek again answered with some of her best hitting when she needed it most. She delievered a stabilizing and confident hold, and in the eventual tiebreak, the 20-year-old would take her own 4-2 lead.
Like Nadal, Swiatek struck a backhand winner to put her one set from advancing, and she’d soon seal the victory in convincing fashion.
“She was playing really fast from the beginning, she was dominating,” said Swiatek after the one-hour and 22-minute match that looks easier than it actually was. “I’m just trying to approach every game the same way.”
Rafa and Iga didn’t take the straightest paths to victory on Day 6, but they both won in straight sets. We’ve seen that before at Roland Garros, and are likely to see it again.