No mercy: Ruthless Iga Swiatek draws from past pain to swat Potapova

Iga Swiatek in action
Iga Swiatek in action (PC: WTA/X)

There is a ruthless streak when Iga Swiatek is on the tennis court. For three years in a row, the Polish star has topped the charts in women’s tennis, bringing back memories of previous ladies’ champions who would show no mercy.

At the hallowed precincts of Roland Garros in Paris on Sunday evening, when there was sunshine and not rain, Swiatek set the court on fire. The way she dismissed Anastasia Potapova was scary, for a 6-0, 6-0 demolition job in 40 minutes is not what you expect on the second Sunday of a Grand Slam.

Then again, for those not too clued in on tennis stats, Swiatek has been eager and angry for some reason. She channelises that anger to come out on top at the Grand Slams. Of course, the French Open has become her theatre, where she does not even have to rehearse the lines. To be gunning for her fourth match with a double-bagel scoreline was not something she or anyone else could have planned. Yet, after being given a scare by Noami Osaka last week, Swiatek thumped her Russian opponent with ferocity and fluency.

The defending champion has almost made it a habit to win at least one match a year at the French Open without dropping a game. Her shots can be so precise as to make you wonder whether CAD (Computer Aided Design) played a part. But it is her mental aggression that can destroy opponents.

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Iga Swiatek in the French Open 2024
Iga Swiatek in the French Open 2024 (PC: Roland Garros/X)

Against Osaka, Swiatek was in trouble. But she clearly does not want to go through such an ordeal again. There has been history between Swiatek and Potapova since their junior days almost a decade ago. In December 2014, when they were competing in the Under-14 category, they had clashed in the Orange Bowl semi-finals. This is a very important tournament for junior tennis in the United States of America. At that time, Swiatek made a hash of three match points.

Such losses leave scars. Perhaps, it was these memories which brought out the beast mode in Swiatek, who showed that there could be creativity as well while producing audacious strokes on the slow clay. If you go through the old records, it was Potapova who was projected to be a bigger star in 2014. But it is Swiatek who has made the WTA Tour and the French Open her own backyard. The kind of streak she produced in 2022, before collapsing just before Wimbledon, made her a player to be feared.

“I had a thought that times change because she (Potapova) was the player to beat me,” said Swiatek after barely breaking sweat on Sunday. “I don’t think I won against her, and I had lost some heart-breaking matches. Like the semi-final of the Orange Bowl, when I had match point, I had just a thought. It lasted a few seconds, and I knew then I was not focusing on my work.”

This kind of memory can be powerful motivation, however, especially for a player with Swiatek’s killer instinct. “Three-hour matches stay with you for a couple of days but I felt fresh today (Sunday),” she said, after moving to within three wins of a fifth Grand Slam title and a third French crown in a row. On this evidence, it’s hard to look past her.

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