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It was just six years ago that Iga Swiatek arrived on the clay courts of Budapest for the Junior Fed Cup and in her first game she stared on the pitch at a Canadian opponent called Bianca Andreescu. As she won in three tough sets, it would be one of the formative results of Swiatek’s junior career, a win that imbued her with the belief that she could compete against players from the biggest and most successful tennis nations. more famous. She ended the week leading Poland to the title.

It’s been a long journey for both players since and in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open, their paths finally crossed in singles for the second time, now as Grand Slam champions watching each other from afar. with immense mutual respect. This matchup could one day be a defining rivalry for the era, but for now, it’s Swiatek’s time. After a bruising first set, she parted ways effectively earning a remarkable 26th consecutive win, beating Andreescu 7-6(2), 6-0.

“I feel like I’m playing better and better every game,” Swiatek said. “Even though the first set was quite tight, I had some ups and downs, I felt like I could play well in the important moments and come back at any time.”

The opening set was tense, filled with high-octane rallies as both players tried to smother each other’s second serve while looking to control the baseline. From the start, Swiatek challenged Andreescu to follow his intensity, athleticism and ball striking. She established a 5-3 lead with her superior movement, her backhand reeling winners down the line and clearing all short balls.

Despite still adapting to such intensity so soon after her return, Andreescu slowly grew in the game and she fought desperately. She played her clearest spell in attacking tennis with her back to the wall, breaking Swiatek as she served for the set and then holding a break point at 5-5.

But Swiatek’s confidence is stratospheric and she was there for all the big points, stopping Andreescu’s momentum then playing a clear tie-break. As in so many of her recent matches, Swiatek opened her shoulders and relaxed in the second set, the game quickly fell apart like so many of the 25 before them.

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With 26 consecutive victories, this remarkable run now puts Swiatek on par with Victoria Azarenka’s winning streak in 2012 and in the 21st century, only the three greatest players of this period have compiled more victories: Venus Williams (35), Serena Williams (34) and Justine Henin. (32). Swiatek has also won 40 of her last 41 sets and this year alone she has inflicted 13 bagel sets (6-0) on her opponents.

“I needed time to learn how to do it right, how to use the streak or the ranking to put pressure on my opponents,” said Swiatek, who will next face Aryna Sabalenka. “I feel like I did pretty well last season and this season at the start, just learning to use it in a positive way. Last year when I had a better ranking, I had the I felt like it was something that put pressure on me. This time it’s totally different.

Although Andreescu couldn’t keep up, it’s been another hugely positive week as she recovers her level and rankings after a six-month layoff for mental health reasons. She put herself in good position for a deep run in Paris with the right draw and the anticipation for the next encounter between her and Swiatek only grew. In the men’s draw, Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Jannik Sinner 7-6(5), 6-2 to set up another encounter with bitter rival Alexander Zverev, their third straight Masters 1000 semi-final of the season on clay .

“For me, I have respect for him,” Tsitsipas said. “I don’t know if I’ve shown it or not, but I have respect for what he’s achieved in the sport so far. Every time I go out there to play him, I really want get the most out of my game and really show what I’m capable of in terms of tennis, handle difficult situations.

Late Friday night, Novak Djokovic continued to build his form in time for the French Open as he overcame fiery fightback from 8th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets, winning 7-5, 7-6 (1) to reach the semi-final here. He will face fifth-seeded Casper Ruud, who edged Denis Shapovalov 7-6(7), 7-5.

By reaching the semi-final in Rome, Djokovic secured his No. 1 ranking and top seed at Roland Garros, which begins next Sunday.

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