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Iga Swiatek comes back from the brink and is now ready to win Wimbledon

The world No 1 had to save match points before beating Belinda Bencic to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time but is becoming more confident on grass

Luke Baker
at Wimbledon
Monday 10 July 2023 09:04 BST
Iga Swiatek dug deep to get past Belinda Bencic
Iga Swiatek dug deep to get past Belinda Bencic (PA)

If Iga Swiatek goes on to win Wimbledon 2023 and, make no mistake, Iga Swiatek has proved she is now capable of winning Wimbledon 2023, then this match may just be the turning point in her tournament and maybe in her entire relationship with grass-court tennis.

To say the world No 1 was on the brink of elimination would be the mother of all understatements. At a set and 6-5, 15-40 down facing two match points in a contest where everything had seemed to be conspiring for a Belinda Bencic victory, she was basically in the taxi on her way home.

Yet she dug deep, probably deeper than she ever has on a surface that she openly admits she is “still trying to figure out” to smack a forehand winner down the line and then a backhand winner cross-court.

True champions shine brightest in the darkest moments and Swiatek was luminescent as she turned the tide to somehow snatch a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory in a three-hour thriller that earned her a standing ovation from an enthralled Centre Court crowd.

She could have been forgiven for scratching her head and wondering exactly how she had been in that position in the first place.

In the first set, Swiatek earned six break points, two set points and barely lost a point on her own serve, yet it was Bencic ultimately revelling in a set win after taking the tiebreak 7-4 and with one foot in the quarter-finals. No one ever said elite sport was fair.

Belinda Bencic played superbly, especially in the big moments of the fourth-round match (Getty)

After a seventh break point slipped by at 15-40 in the first game of the second set, it was eighth time lucky as a furious forehand left her opponent rooted to the spot and the Pole roared with delight at finally taking her chance.

The barrage of powerful forehand winners, brutal backhand winners and thunderous unreturned serves that followed over the next few games seemed to have her in control of the set and confirmed the feeling that the momentum had shifted.

However, Bencic had the temerity to break back the very first time she earned a break point to make it 3-3 and then, in the blink of an eye, the underdog was staring at two match points in her favour. Yet Swiatek summoned her champion spirit and flawless groundstrokes to cling to life before running away with the tiebreak 7-2.

An early break in the third set her on course for victory and although Bencic refused to relent – even putting the pressure on by going 0-30 as Swiatek served for the match – eventually the 22-year-old could celebrate reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the first time and answering some questions in the process.

She was given a genuine test by a top-15 player in the world. A player who is the reigning Olympic champion, who is confident on grass and who had the backing of a Centre Court crowd sniffing an upset. The fact she came through that adversity may just be the spark that sets her on the path to lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday.

The signs of improvement in Swiatek’s grass-court game are clear and these three hours in the intensity of battle could prove to be some pretty effective immersion therapy. “Every day my love for the grass is getting bigger,” the three-time French Open champion smiled in her post-match interview on court. “Hopefully I've got many more days here to continue that.”

A few baseline slides, while not as crisp or natural as those she routinely produces on her clay-court home, demonstrated that she’s learning how to translate her world-class movement to grass.

Swiatek is becoming more confident on grass with each passing match (PA)

Her serve may not quite be the almost unreturnable, free point-winning weapon that it is for her “new women’s Big Three” rivals Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka but it held up in the vital moments and she’s now able to dictate points from it.

She’s certainly capable of beating anyone in her kinder side of the draw and while Ryabkina or Sabalenka (or Ons Jabeur or Petra Kvitova) in the final may be a different matter, Swiatek loves the big stage and currently has a perfect, 100 per cent record in grand slam finals.

If you’re looking for omens, how about the fact that her idol and fellow clay-court master Rafael Nadal won his first Wimbledon when he was already a four-time grand slam champion – the same number Swiatek is currently on?

She already has the heart and, as demonstrated against Bencic, the ruthless mentality of a champion. Slowly but surely her grass-court game is catching up.

Her rivals should be afraid, very afraid.

Azarenka booed by Wimbledon fans as Djokovic match suspended

Belarusian Victoria Azarenka blamed “drunk” fans in the Wimbledon crowd after she was booed off court following her defeat to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina. Svitolina triumphed in an epic three-set battle against the former world No 1 Azarenka in what was the first match between a Ukrainian player and a Russian or Belarusian at this year’s tournament.

Azarenka was booed as she left the court (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

As expected, there was no handshake at the net but there was a nod of acknowledgement between the players. But Azarenka was then loudly booed off the court as Svitolina prepared for her post-match interview. Azarenka said she was surprised by the reaction: “I’m not sure that a lot of people were understanding what’s happening,” she said. “It’s probably been a lot of Pimm’s throughout the day.

Novak Djokovic will need to resume his Wimbledon fourth-round match against Hubert Hurkacz on Monday after play was suspended due to the 11pm curfew. Djokovic won two tiebreaks to take a two-set lead against big-serving Hurkacz, who squandered a 6-3 advantage in the first decider on what was a dramatic middle Sunday at the Championships.

The start of Djokovic’s match had been pushed back by the three sets played by Swiatek and Bencic and the thrilling five-set battle between Andrey Rublev and Alexander Bublik, which produced the shot of the tournament so far. Rublev raced into a two-set lead but Bublik edged tiebreaks in the third and fourth to force the decider. After getting the break of serve, Bublik was pressing for the break back when he powered a backhand up the line for what looked set to be a certain winner. But Rublev leapt to his right and salvaged a miracle passing shot from the ground, before firing ace to win the match on the next point.

Elsewhere, Jannik Sinner continued to make the most of a fair draw as the eighth seed returned to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. The Italian defeated Daniel Galan in straight sets 7-6 6-4 6-3 to set up a meeting with the unheralded Roman Safiullin, who became the first man to reach the quarter-finals on his Wimbledon debut in nine years with his victory over Denis Shapovalov.

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