Super Swiatek downs Osaka to win third straight WTA1000 title

Rio Ferdinand makes admission about Man United star

The women’s draw in Miami this year was in some disarray even before the 96 names were slotted into place.

Defending champion and world No1 Ash Barty had already withdrawn from Miami before announcing her retirement priot to the tournament.

World No4 Barbora Krejcikova, No7 seed Garbine Muguruza, No23 seed Simona Halep, and the struggling 2020 Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin, all pulled out before the draw with injury.

And by the time all the remaining seeds completed their first matches in Round 2, 16 of them had lost, including the top seed Aryna Sabalenka, No3 seed Anett Kontaveit, No6 seed Karolina Pliskova, No11 seed Emma Raducanu, No13 seed Angelique Kerber and No15 seed Elina Svitolina.

By the time the third round was done and dusted, neither of the two previous champions in the draw remained: unseeded Sloane Stephens and No12 seed Victoria Azarenka.

And through the course of the draw, there was also a clutch of walkovers and retirements, most notably by the No5 seed Paula Badosa in the quarter-finals.

But come the last day, and two of the biggest names currently on the women’s tour had risen, like cream, to the top.

In the bottom half, and seeded No2 in the draw following two back-to-back WTA1000 titles in Doha and Indian Wells, was Iga Swiatek, now up to a 16-match streak, all at the 1000 level. And she was yet to drop a set in Miami, or even be taken to a tie-break as she cruised past the likes of No14 seed Cori Gauff, No28 seed Petra Kvitova, and No16 seed Jessica Pegula.

It was a run that came after semi finishes in both Adelaide and the Australian Open, and took her to 25-3 for the season so far. Little wonder, then, that the 20-year-old Pole, who won her first career title at the French Open while still a teenager, claimed the No1 ranking within days of starting her Miami campaign.

That Swiatek would face the current world No77 would cut no mustard when it came to picking a favourite for the title, however. For that opponent was no other than four-time Major champion Naomi Osaka.

The Japanese super-star, absent for large stretches of the last two seasons as she managed some mental health and confidence issues, hit the big time when she was just 20, when she won her first two titles at Indian Wells and the US Open.

But after winning the Australian Open last year, she won just nine matches, bypassed the grass season altogether, and did not play after losing her second match at the US Open as the defending champion. Points fell off after Melbourne too, but she now the former No1 had the chance to shoot back up the ranks to around No30 if she won the Miami title.

One thing was certain, Osaka would have plenty of support when she took to court in the heat of Saturday afternoon. She lives just down the coast from Miami, so no problems with the heat and humidity, either.

What is more, Swiatek had a lot more hours in her legs through the last few weeks, but with her attacking style of play, and a clear determination this season to step in and take control of points early, would she be able to reverse their only other result, back in 2019 in Toronto. Back then, Osaka was already a Major champion and world No1, while the teenage Swiatek, ranked 66, was still playing qualifying rounds.

But it was Osaka who came under pressure first, and had to work very hard in the opening game, an 11-minute marathon of seven deuces, two break chances and four aces—taking her tally past 50 for the tournament—for a hold, 1-0.

Swiatek held more easily, despite the intimidating stance of Osaka, who received each second serve from a metre inside the baseline.

Osaka held to love at the next time of asking, but Swiatek was reading her opponent’s serve, found a number of winners in reply, and she had Osaka under pressure again in the fifth game. Sure enough, a return-of-serve winner converted the Pole’s break chance to make the first strike, 3-2.

The conditions were challenging, and the sun split the length of the court, making serving tricky from one end and receiving tricky from the other. It was up to 90F, with high humidity too, so the question was, could Swiatek maintain her energy and calm demeanour through what had the makings of a gruelling match.

With half an hour on the clock, Swiatek held with her signature shot, a forehand winner, 4-2. She had the chance for a double break courtesy of a sizzling forehand pass down the line, but Osaka’s serve came good and she held.

Swiatek’s first serve was letting her down, now below 40 percent, but she was holding on with a neat kicker second serve, 5-3. She went on to serve it out, 6-4.

Osaka opened proceedings in the second set, and no matter the serves she fired at her opponent, Swiatek’s returns were sharp and precise through the court, and they earned three immediate break chances. She converted the second with yet another blistering return of serve.

The Pole held with an ace for 2-0, and broke again as the Osaka serve broke down with a double fault. Swiatek seemed, if anything, to be increasing the pace and penetration of her game, slotting winners down either wing at will. She was challenged briefly in the fourth game, deuce, but came through, and then threatened a love break. Instead, it was a break to 15, and she clenched her fist to her box, 5-0.

Osaka knew her time was up, her resistance dropped, and Swiatek served out the final game, 6-0, to claim a set of remarkable achievements. It made her the first woman to sweep the first three WTA1000s of the season, and the youngest woman ever to win the notoriously difficult ‘Sunshine Double’ in Indian Wells and Miami, age 20.

The Miami fans have clearly taken the Pole to their hearts for her charismatic style of play, her boldness, her focus, and her achievements. She has also charmed Miami just as much as Indian Wells with her beaming smile, her modest words, and youthful zest.

Of reaching No1 during her Miami campaign, she said simply: “I think I just focused on tennis not on the ranking, You have to find some kind of distance from it. I hope I’m going to do well with the pressure.”

Would she have the energy to celebrate her successes? “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to feel it later today… [But] celebrating is still my weak point, I don’t know how to do that! And I don’t know when is my flight. [But] to be near the ocean and maybe get some surfing lessons—if my coach lets me.”

After what Swiatek has achieved so far this year, she surely deserves some time on the beach, though she admitted she was keen to get home to see her family. And in no time at all, she will be joining Europe’s long clay swing. She won the Rome 1000 last year: who knows what she will win this time around.

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia