Anything can happen in tennis, but the two-set trouncing of Simona Halep by Iga Swiatek was a shocker. The teen from Raszyn, which is a little village near Warsaw (the capital of Poland), put an end to the top seeded Miss Halep’s 17-match streak (her longest ever) in a little over an hour.
Miss Iga is one of several bright new faces that counter the discontent some players have expressed about this unseasonal French Open. There have been complaints about the damp and chilly weather, the Wilson balls, the line calls, the testing for cov-infection.
The French Open is normally played in the spring, sunny and balmy, and the issue is whether the climate affects the way the balls bounce. The answer is of course it does. As to the line calls, can the umps read the marks on the clay courts accurately to make fair in or out rulings? Of course they cannot, not every single time. Some players thought testing positive for infection but then testing negative should let them play. The tournament said no; there will be lawsuits, but the show continues.
Miss Iga did not complain. She wears white leggings matching a top that look like a smock and plays her game. To win matches, wrote Bill Tilden nearly a century ago, you must disrupt your opponent’s game.
He meant that since you have two players who are nearly flawless on technique, you cannot win by “playing better.” You have to mess up the other’s game, put him in the wrong place at the right time. This allows you to put a ball past him (a “winner”) or to send it to him when his feet, his arms, his eyes, his torso, his mind are not where they should be (an “error,” forced or unforced, depending; but practically speaking it does not matter).
A young man scarcely out of his teens, Hugo Gaston, did this with a versatility that got the better of the mighty Stan Wawrinka. He very nearly pulled it off again against U.S. Open champ Dominic Thiem in the fourth round, coming back from two sets down to force a deciding fifth. Being from Toulouse, in France’s southwest, he had the sparse crowd on his side. He was alone, a lone Frenchman.
Miss Iga pulled off her upset with such mastery it was difficult to believe she is only 19 and comes from this little village near Warsaw I have never seen (I have never been to Warsaw, either), but that Mr. Pleszczynski, who is from California but has “roots” in Poland and speaks the language and goes there often, assures me is charming and cute. And they must have a damn good tennis pro.
Observe that Miss Halep, who is from Constanta, oldest center of civilization in Romania and maybe the Balkans, had been playing some of the best tennis of her career (she is 29), and she carried the momentum of her triumph at Rome three weeks ago into the damp dour Parisian weather. She was playing great, dominant tennis, which made the upset all the more remarkable. Miss Iga, who listens to Guns N’ Roses rock ’n’ roll music, kept bouncing her from side to side and catching everything sent at her, responding with killer winners and subtle drop shots. It was more than the 2018 champion could handle, as she acknowledged with grace and compliments.
With a win over another Cinderella, Italy’s Martina Trevisan, Iga Swiatek became the first Pole in history to get to the French Open semis, where she will face Nadia Podoroska, who is not from Ukraine. Her parents are, but she was born and raised in Rosario, the third city of Argentina to the east of the Pampas, where the gauchos roam.
Diego Schwartzman, the other Argentine in this tournament, defeated the mighty Rafa Nadal at Rome just three weeks ago and will be meeting him again in the semis, having won a five-set match against U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem, who had sustained a five-set assault by the rising lone Frenchman. There are only so many five-setters in a row even Thiem can sustain. Gaston and Schwartzman, too much disruption.
That is the tennis news, not all of it but enough for now. There will not be any American men in the semis, but either Danielle Collins or Sofia Kenin will have one of the four slots. They are both gritty and stubborn, and it is great they are having a shot at the glory, despite the regret of Serena Williams having had to drop out due to injury. So that is the tennis news.