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MATCH POINT: Iga Swiatek begins Wimbledon with her 36th consecutive victory

Tradition holds that on the opening Tuesday of Wimbledon, the women’s champion from the previous year will commence play on Centre Court. But 2021 Wimbledon winner Ash Barty has retired. In Barty’s absence, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek entered Centre Court to take on Jana Fett, a qualifier ranked 252nd in the world.

Though the 21-year-old from Poland has yet to reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal, she looked the part of a future champion. For 75 five minutes later, Swiatek had earned a 6-0, 6-3 victory—her 36th consecutive match win.

Four years ago, in the second round of the 2018 Australian Open, Fett had held two match points versus eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki. But today, save for one small period, she was hardly able to assert herself. Perhaps momentarily lulled by her dominance of the first set, Swiatek stumbled at the start of the second, to the point of serving at 1-3, love-40. But Fett, who’d begun to strike the ball crisply through those first four games, was unable to capitalize. Once Swiatek fought back in that game, she was able to smother Fett with her customary mix of movement, power and precision.

“Well, I'm just really happy that I made it through 'cause the first rounds are always tricky, especially if it's my first match on grass,” said Swiatek. “I'm happy that I was able to implement all this stuff that we were practicing on.”

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Swiatek’s 36th win in a row puts her in high company—most notably with two other tennis titans who, like Swiatek, also came into Wimbledon having won Roland Garros for a second time. But unlike Swiatek, these two had also already been quite successful on the grounds of the All England Club.

Nine years ago, Serena Williams was sizzling hot. At age 31, she played superb clay-court tennis at Roland Garros, winning the tournament 11 years after claiming her first French Open title. Williams’ Wimbledon resume was even more impressive: five singles titles as of 2013, including a run to victory in 2012. Strongly favored to win Wimbledon, Williams arrived in London on a 31-match winning streak.

Her Centre Court opener was a routine 6-1, 6-3 win over 92nd-ranked Mandy Minella. But after winning two more matches without the loss of a set, Williams was upset in the round of 16 by Sabine Lisicki.

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She nearly faced a double-break deficit in the second set, but things soon went to plan for the searing-hot Iga Swiatek.

She nearly faced a double-break deficit in the second set, but things soon went to plan for the searing-hot Iga Swiatek.

Thirty-one was also the win streak number for Martina Navratilova back in 1984. She too had won a second Roland Garros (her first had come in ’82), for her fourth consecutive major. Further boosting Navratilova’s champion’s aura was that she’d recently handily beaten the queen of clay, Chris Evert, 6-3, 6-1, in the finals of Roland Garros. And now Navratilova was headed to grass, the surface where she was most comfortable, in pursuit of a fifth Wimbledon crown.

Up against 1977 Wimbledon junior finalist Peanut Louie in the first round, Navratilova fought through a tight first set and then got even better, earning a 6-4, 6-0 win. She’d go on to take the title without the loss of a set, beating Evert in the final, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Said Swiatek, “But it's amazing for me to have that kind of streak. It just shows how much work we've been putting for every match. I'm pretty happy that I could show consistency because it was always my goal. I didn't know it's going to be possible for me to show that much consistency, and actually to win tournaments. But I'm just really happy and I'm trying to use it the best way possible.”

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Where will Swiatek end up, when all is said and done? We’ll see, but she is unquestionably comfortable on this surface. Four years ago, Swiatek won the Wimbledon junior title. Just prior to this year’s tournament, Swiatek looked back on that run.

“I watched some highlights that popped up on Instagram, it looked like slow-motion tennis, honestly,” she said. “I'm pretty happy that right now I'm on different level and I could do that transition well.”

Indeed, life for Swiatek is moving much faster these days.