Swiatek shows first glimpses of vulnerability with rivals lurking

With her winning streak at 37 matches and counting, Iga Swiatek remains a warm favourite to lift the women’s singles trophy here on Saturday week after her 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 defeat of Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove on Thursday. But the fact that the No 1 seed surrendered only her third set since March – and to an opponent who qualified only as a lucky loser – should give hope to her rivals that a player who has seemingly forgotten how to lose may not be quite as armour-plated as she seems.

Swiatek was comfortable enough in the first set but her forehand went missing in the second. She briefly adjourned to the locker room to regroup before returning to break Pattinama Kerkhove’s serve in the fourth and ninth games of the third. The loss of that second set added to one she conceded to Zheng Qinwen at the French Open and another to Liudmila Samsonova in Stuttgart.

While the Polish No 1 is still the bookies’ clear favourite she is not quite an odds-on shot as yet, which means that there are two ways to think about her chances of following up her French Open triumph last month. On the one hand, Swiatek is the likeliest winner. On the other, the betting still implies that, at some point over the next nine days, someone is likely to beat her.

Ons Jabeur, who knocked out Swiatek in the fourth round last year, is one live danger to the top seed. Jelena Ostapenko, who has a 3-0 career record against Swiatek including a win on grass, is another. And for much of her second-round match against Ana Bogdan, the two-times Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova looked every inch a contender for her third title.

Kvitova set off in the form that carried her to the title at Eastbourne earlier this month. The raw power in her forehand, a key component of her championships here in 2011 and 2014, is undiminished: Bogdan could not come up with even the beginnings of an answer as Kvitova’s groundstrokes found the lines and her serve kicked straight into gear. From the Romanian’s end of the court, her Czech opponent’s six-foot frame must have seemed to be growing taller by the minute.

But having lost just three points in her first three service games, Kvitova needed to save three break points amid six deuces and two double faults before securing the set 6-1. And if that game raised a few questions about the 25th seed’s killer instincts, a more worrying wobble was to follow. From 5-1 up in the second, Bogdan reeled off five games in a row as her opponent twice failed to serve it out.

Bogdan was firing in returns to her opponent’s feet and several of Kvitova’s attempts to send them back looked almost embarrassed as they flopped into the net. But an ace which crashed down the middle helped to steady the ship on set point to Bogdan at 5-6, and the big forehand, missing in action for much of the previous 20 minutes, made a timely reappearance to snuff out another set point moments later.

Her poise now somewhat recovered, Kvitova edged the tie-break and with it the match, but there was as much relief as celebration in the aftermath.

“I think it was a great match until 5-1, 5-2,” she said. “Suddenly I felt so exhausted from the games I had. I don’t know, it was just tough to describe. I got a little bit tighter and she just went for it a little bit more. She didn’t miss. It was really tough to close it out.

“I really thought that probably [there would] be a third set, that I didn’t even make it for the tiebreak. In the end I did, I don’t know how. I’m just glad that it’s done, for sure.”

Kvitova’s championship credentials will get another stern test in the third round, where Paula Badosa, the No 4 seed, lies in wait after a cosy 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Irina Bara.

“I just practised [with] her in Eastbourne before the tournament started,” Kvitova said. “It was good practice, pretty aggressive from both sides. That’s what I’m going to for sure be ready for, big serves, great returns. But I think still that she likes more hard court and clay than the grass. Hopefully that could be my advantage a little bit.”

Simona Halep, the 2019 champion, also reached the third round, beating Kirsten Flipkens 7-5, 6-4, but another seemingly plausible contender failed to clear the second hurdle as Bianca Andreescu, the US Open winner in 2019 who has been plagued by injury, lost in straight sets to Elena Rybakina, the No 17 seed.

In the final match of the day on Centre Court, Coco Guff easily defeated Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 6-3 to setup a third-round contest with fellow American Amanda Anisimova.

Gauff, who exploded onto the global stage in 2019 when, aged 15, she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, broke Buzarnescu’s serve in the fourth game and launched an 122 mph rocket to win the fifth, the fastest serve so far in the women’s tournament.

The French Open finalist broke Buzarnescu again to close out the set in a brisk 31 minutes and closed out the match with another ace.