World number one Iga Swiatek must have pushed herself on Thursday when she beat Belarusian Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the Italian Open quarterfinals and extend her winning streak to 25.
Azarenka, a former world number one, was ahead 3-0. But Swiatek chained five games in a row in an intense first set that took 1 hour and 20 minutes.
“I didn’t go well with my first serve,” said Poland’s Swiatek. “But I’m happy to win the first set the ugly way and improve in the second. That gives me the confidence that when my tennis is not 100%, I manage to win the matches”.
In contrast, world number one Novak Djokovic was unfazed by dispatching 6-2, 6-2 against Stan Wawrinka, who was playing only his second tournament after a pair of surgeries on his left foot.
With 1 hour and 14 minutes left, Djokovic settled his engagement faster than the first set between Swiatek and Azarenka.
Djokovic, a five-time champion in Rome, will now face Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who put an end to American Marcos Girón by winning 6-3, 6-2. It will be the first duel between Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime on the tour.
Defending the title in Rome, Swiatek is trying to win her fifth tournament in a row.
The last play with a longer winning streak was Serena Williams, who linked 27 between 2014 and 2015.
“(The streak) doesn’t bother me because every game is different,” Swiatek said. “I have played badly in many games, although I was able to win them. Anything can happen. Each match has a different story.”
Swiatek’s exceptional moment has her as the favorite to be proclaimed champion of the French Open for the second time. The second Grand Slam of the year will get underway in 10 days.
As a sign of the difficulty that Swiatek had to preserve the serve on the clay court of the Foro Italico, he had to play more than twice as many points with his service than Azarenka — 98-47.
Swiatek will now face Canadian Bianca Andreescu. The 2019 US Open champion scored 6-4, 6-4 for the Croatian.
Also, third-seeded Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka beat American Jessica Pegula, a finalist at the Madrid Open last week, 6-1, 6-4.
In the men’s draw, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas reacted to eliminate the Russian Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-0, 6-3. Tsitsipas scored his 29th victory this year, the most on tour.
The German Alexander Zverev, champion of the tournament in 2017 and who has also just reached the final in Madrid, defeated the Australian Alex De Miñaur 6-3, 7-6 (5).