French Open 2022: Can anyone challenge Iga Swiatek?
Iga Swiatek came into the French Open as the favorite — and so far, she has looked dominant. While Saturday’s match over Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic did not go perfectly, Swiatek still easily advanced to the fourth round with a 6-3, 7-5 victory to win her 31st match in a row.
And while Swiatek likely didn’t need any help, she has gotten it: She is the only top-10 player left in the draw. With the early exits of defending champion Barbora Krejcikova and former champs Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep, as well as top-10 players Paula Badosa, Ons Jabeur, Anett Kontaveit and Maria Sakkari, many of those who might have made it tougher for her are already out.
Of the players remaining, who could potentially give Swiatek the biggest challenge?
Our experts gave their picks.
Pam Shriver: Swiatek’s biggest danger is to lose before the finals to an opponent she is not familiar with, who can play first strike tennis well from first point to last. Chinese star Zheng Qinwen, who beat former Roland Garros champion Halep in the second round, has the power and momentum to pull off the big upset. Zheng has never played Swiatek, therefore there is no scar tissue. The locker room would have noticed Swiatek’s erratic play in the second set versus Kovinic. While Swiatek is the overwhelming favorite to win her second Roland Garros, we know in sports there is never an automatic.
Cliff Drysdale: Leylah Fernandez. She has the fearlessness of youth and a Nadal-like focus. The problem is, it cannot happen unless they both reach the final.
D’Arcy Maine: I don’t see anyone giving Swiatek much of a challenge in Paris at this point. But tennis is far from immune to the unexpected so, you never know, right? After watching how Jil Teichmann rallied to come back against Victoria Azarenka in a thriller that lasted well over three hours in the third round, it feels as if she would be more than up for any challenge. Teichmann is surging on clay, having made a run to the semifinals in Madrid and reaching the quarterfinals in Rome, and has recorded seven top-20 wins this season. Teichmann lost her lone career match against Swiatek, at Adelaide in 2021, but has made significant progress since and has perhaps never been playing better.
Bill Connelly: From the simple perspective of who’s playing really well right now, Anisimova and Coco Gauff are both players to watch. Anisimova is 13-3 on clay this year and swept Naomi Osaka and Donna Vekic before catching a break with the snake-bitten Karolina Muchova’s injury retirement in the third set on Friday. Gauff, meanwhile, came to Paris only 4-3 on clay this year, but she has played two top-60 players in three matches and has yet to drop a set.
Every time a likely contender has emerged, she has quickly succumbed to an upset, so we’ll see if these two young Americans can keep things going for another week. (And if they can keep it up, we’ll see if they can even put a dent in Swiatek’s armor.) But so far, so good.
Tom Hamilton: Well the good news for Swiatek is, among the ridiculously numerous great things about her tennis at the moment, the last player who beat her is now no longer at the French Open after Jelena Ostapenko’s exit on Thursday. But she’s so in the zone that you can’t imagine she fears anybody in world tennis anyway.
If I must pick someone then I’m going for Amanda Anisimova, who’s playing some brilliant tennis here.
Simon Cambers: It is so hard to see her being beaten at all. She just has this incredible air about her right now. She’s beating players in the same manner Steffi Graf used to do, brutally. If she is tested, she just steps up her game and wipes the her opponent out. She has improved so many parts of her game and her shots are heavier, not to mention the confidence that all those wins have given her.
But, maybe someone like a Sloane Stephens could give her some problems. Someone who can soak up the pressure, who moves well and who can force Swiatek to miss and maybe, as a result, to panic. Or maybe Fernandez, who was very impressive against Belinda Bencic. But it is a long shot.
Aishwarya Kumar: I’m going to go with Stephens. She is a 2018 French Open finalist. She’s a Grand Slam winner (2017 US Open). She knows how to handle the big moments, and well — especially when the focus isn’t on her. And she is an unknown entity for Swiatek, who has never faced her in her career. Plus, let’s not forget that Stephens’ end of the draw is looking more and more open with seeded players like Angelique Kerber, Sakkari and Bencic getting knocked out in the earlier rounds.
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