By Nick Carter
We all knew it was going to come to an end. No one is truly unstoppable. Even Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams had losses during their most dominant periods. However, for me, today’s loss by Iga Świątek was very odd. I’ll let others reflect on the streak as a whole, but I want to look at the end.
Let’s get one thing out of the way now: Alizé Cornet played a really good match. She was solid, consistent, and pulled off some incredible gets. She really stepped up to her role as one of the disruptors of women’s tennis. Cornet famously did it before against Serena Williams the last time she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2014, and she just did it again. Her peak level is up with the best, we just don’t see it that often. It was enough to end two streaks Iga Świątek had: 37 consecutive match wins since February 2022, and 7 consecutive fourth round appearances at majors (starting at Roland-Garros 2020).
Consistency is the key word of this match. Iga Świątek has achieved most of her wins this year by being aggressive whilst somehow not missing most of her strikes, the heavy topspin keeping the ball in. Today, it was Cornet keeping the unforced errors to a minimum and finding her shots somehow landing in the court. By contrast, Świątek was the one misfiring, particularly at the start and end of the match. The middle part (from 3-0 down in set one through to 2-0 up in set two), was closer to the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from the Pole, blasting shots her opponent couldn’t handle. However, the ruthlessness on return was still missing to an extent.
Weirdly, Świątek was very calm during the match. She got very animated during her tough moments at Roland Garros last month against Zheng (and against Kovinić to an extent). Here, she didn’t show much emotion, but you could tell from her shot selection near the end that she hadn’t quite worked Cornet out. She continued to up the aggression, which led to some unforced errors and even questionable shot choices. It was by no means a mental collapse, she seemed to very much believe she could get back in the match, but there was an element to her game that wasn’t quite there today.
In discussing what it would take for Świątek to lose, most have said that one of two things would need to happen: that she would need to have a bad day or she would have to face a particular type of opponent, either one with a lot of power that could outhit her (if they redlined) or one with enough variety to disrupt her. Cornet does not fit the power player mold, but she can mix up the pace. That said, the streak ended because Świątek was having a bad day. It was possible to tell this from the start of the match. She usually starts matches well and uses the momentum to keep herself in front, here she blasted unforced errors to go a double-break down immediately and gave herself a big mountain to climb.
Still, Świątek has had bad days during the streak, she was just usually able to stabilise things enough to win the first set and then take control early in the second. Thinking about her recent wobbles in Roland Garros, against Kovinić and Zheng, and her second round match at Wimbledon against Pattinama Kerkhove, her solid groundstrokes did desert her for a while. Zheng was a slightly different situation as her aggression was disrupting the world number one until her body intervened. In the case of the other two however, they lacked the consistency to take advantage of the situation they faced. Even when not at her best, Świątek is still able to execute some brilliant shots and even off her best, her defence is hard to breach.
In today’s match, Cornet only hit seven unforced errors, easily taking the mantle as the more consistent player. In addition, she got many of her opponent’s heavy shots back in play. This helped her take control of the first set, and frustrated Świątek in the second as she tried to up the aggression and hit through the veteran. This is a scenario I hadn’t considered, that somehow that Świątek could lose to someone playing more consistently but it’s what ended up happening.
This might be contributing to a sense of anti-climax. I think most of us hoped that the streak would come to a spectacular end in the second week of a major as Świątek took on a fellow top player, like Bianca Andreescu, Coco Gauff, Simona Halep, Paula Badosa, Jelena Ostapenko or Ons Jabeur. Fading out in round three to Alize Cornet seems inauspicious, especially to those who may not have seen the match. Rest assured, though, Cornet earned that win with her level and has some decent pedigree, having some big wins against top players (including the aforementioned Serena Williams), reached a career high of 11 and has reached a 1000 final in her career (Rome 2008, where she beat two French Open champions). She’s on a high this year, having finally reached a major quarter-final in Australia and a semi-final on grass in Bad Homburg last week (beating Angelique Kerber and narrowly losing to eventual champion Caroline Garcia, who is also into the fourth round at Wimbledon).
If Świątek was going to have an early exit, it was probably going to be on grass. She’s yet to beat a top 60 opponent on the surface (check Juan Ignacio’s tweet below), as she seems to struggle to adjust to the different movement required and the bounce the surface produces. This lessens the sense that she’s underperformed, she’s far from being alone in being yet to figure out grass. In theory, her game should still translate to the surface, she just needs some more time.
I don’t like endings. It’s no secret that I am a massive Iga Świątek fan so it’s even more weird for me to see her match-win streak end compared to most tennis watchers. Now, there’s going to be a new story on the WTA at Wimbledon and I hope it’s a good one. I’m kind of hoping that Ons Jabeur wins the tournament, but there’s a long way to go before that begins to manifest. However, I’m not sad because Cornet played really well, and Świątek’s achievements this year are by no means diminished. This was one of the greatest four months a player has ever produced in the professional era, only matched by other greats such as Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Let’s reflect on that, and remember that Świątek didn’t play that bad a match and that Cornet stepped up to the required level to win. The streak may be over, but the story is not.