French Open 2020: Stunning teen Iga Swiatek puts out top seed Simona Halep

Qualifier Martina Trevisan beats No5 seed Bertens, to set quarter-final vs Swiatek

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Simona Halep
Simona Halep (Photo: LTA, Nature Valley International / Getty Images)

If former French Open champion Simona Halep won the title again this year, she would return to No1 in the world. And for most, she was the hot favourite to do just that.

For a start, she was on a 17-match winning streak, a three-title run that began back in February in Dubai, and recommenced after the coronavirus lockdown on the clay of Prague and Rome. And once in Paris, she had barely lost a step, hardly pressed in any of her three matches, and beating No25 seed Amanda Anisimova for the loss of just one game.

Surely, then, she came into Round 4 full of confidence. After all, she was about to play the woman she beat for the loss of only one game at this very tournament last year.

Back then, though, Iga Swiatek had only just turned 18, and was outside the top 100, and had been combining her tennis career with completion of her high-school education. Come the autumn, she would also have to undergo foot surgery.

At the Australian Open, though, she renewed her assault on the rankings with a fourth-round run and a high of 48. But it was her progress in Paris that confirmed her form and potential—especially with her commitment to two full-time years focusing on tennis before deciding to continue her education at university.

She accounted for last year’s runner-up, the No15 seed Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1, 6-2. Then it was the ever-dangerous Su-wei Hsieh, 6-1, 6-4, and in Round 3, Eugenie Bouchard—again dropping only five games.

No doubt Halep had been alerted to the danger—that she would be facing a very different Swiatek on a cool, damp Phillip Chatrier this October. Even so, the Polish teenager smothered the top seed with her accurate power, variety, changes of direction, and calm concentration.

Swiatek broke immediately, and then in the sixth game, broke again courtesy of a cross-court forehand winner, and a pitch-perfect drop shot, 5-1. Could she maintain her remarkable composure to serve out the set? Could she stay on top of the super-fit, super-experienced, super-determined Halep? The answer was a resounding yes, as she crunched a forehand down-the-line winner, not for the first time wrong-footing the Romanian.

So after just 24 minutes, the teenager moved a step closer to her first Major quarter-final. And it was not as though Halep was playing poorly: She had made only two errors in the set, but Swiatek had totted up 17 winners to just seven errors.

Halep, sensibly, took a comfort break to return without the leggings she had worn under two sets of shorts. The roof was closed against the worst of the Paris weather, and Swiatek was running her ragged.

It seemed unlikely that this stunning Polish run could continue—but it did: The teenager broke in the opening game of the second set, and then consolidated, 2-0, throwing in some show-stopper shots along the way.

Halep had a look of steely determination on her face, and that fight came through in the third game, an eight-minute battle of wills, multiple deuces and a couple more break points, eventually held by Halep.

Facing 30-30, Swiatek pounded to a hold, 3-1, and Halep shouted her frustration when a net cord put her in danger again. The depth, power, and accuracy of the teenager’s tennis was taking a huge toll, made all the tougher for Halep with the Pole’s confident net-work and drop shots. Halep twice double faulted, fought off five more break points, but began to look out of ideas. And at the sixth attempt, Swiatek fired off another angled forehand cross to draw the error for a 4-1 lead.

The lucky few ticket-holders at Roland Garros tried to lift their former champion—and Halep is a popular character everywhere she plays—and there was a glimmer of a chance at 30-30 in the sixth game. Not for long, though, as Swiatek knocked off another game, 5-1.

She took Halep to deuce again but would have to serve it out. Would nerves finally take a hold? Judging from her perfect drop-shot/lob combo to bring up three match points, no. She claimed a stunning victory, in 68 minutes, 6-1.

After a few years, she then showed in her on-court interview that she is a woman of many parts: articulate and clear-sighted, all in perfect English:

“Kind of speechless! I am super tired because I was so focused for the whole match, I could think about only tennis, and I am just surprised I made it playing against a player like that.

“I remember how I played last year, and I have made huge progress—I am kind of proud of myself. Right now I feel more experienced and I can handle the pressure, so I am really happy.”

She had completed the match with 30 winners, and gave Halep not a single break-point chance. But one of the standout statistics to emerge after the match was that Swiatek’s average forehand and backhand speeds were almost the equal of the fastest in the men’s draw, Jannik Sinner and Dominic Thiem respectively.

While all this was unfolding on Chatrier, there was just as much drama across the grounds on Suzanne Lenglen court.

There, Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan had also taken a 5-1 lead over the No5 seed Kiki Bertens. The difference was, Bertens hit back to serve at 4-5, but Trevisan broke again for the set, 6-4, and promptly broke early in the second set, too.

Again Bertens levelled, 3-3, but with another hold on the board, Trevisan broke to love, 5-3, with a superb backhand winner.

The petite left-hander has come through significant personal problems—not least a long battle as a teenager to beat anorexia. But she could count nine ITF titles, all on clay, before making her first Major main draw in Australia this January. Now in her first Roland Garros main draw, via three qualifying rounds, she had beaten Cori Gauff and No20 seed Maria Sakkari, but this was a test of a different order. And she was clearly enjoying every moment against the formidable clay skills of Bertens.

Now, the Dutch woman broke back again, and surely the fight back was on. Except that, with some considerable style, Trevisan threw up a perfect winning lob on break point and lifted her hands aloft in victory, 6-4.

Before this week, Trevisan had never won a Major match and had only one top-100 win to her name. Now she will play Swiatek in the French Open quarter-finals. No wonder she could not stop smiling as she said:

“Yes, I am living the dream, I came here two weeks ago to play qualifying rounds, but today I am here in the quarter-finals. Oh my god, I can’t believe it.”

It means that, in this extraordinary French Open, played under extraordinary conditions in an out-of-season month, there is just one seed left in the top half of the women’s draw. And given that No3 seed Elina Svitolina would play Paris’s favourite, Caroline Garcia, on the tournament’s most prestigious court, there was every chance that there could be no seeds left by the end of the day.

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