Rome Open 2021: Iga Swiatek sweeps aside former champion Pliskova for Italian title

Teenage Swiatek beat Pliskova 6-0, 6-0, after playing quarters and semis on Saturday: will break top 10 for first time

Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek (Photo: Internazionali BNL d’Italia)

It is not the first time, and it will not be the last, that the huge, and hugely prestigious Internazionali BNL d’Italia found itself in deep water during the playing of two 1000 tournaments in the space of a week.

Outbursts of rain have often descended on the Foro Italico in May—usually in the form of short, sharp downpours. But sometimes, the inclement weather has had a profound effect on the schedule—and very occasionally on the results, too.

Take 2012: Rain began to fall on Maria Sharapova and Li Na, with the latter apparently in command at a set and 4-0 up. The Russian pounded through the heavy conditions to take the second set and lead in the third, where each had chances to close out the match. Eventually the rain was so heavy that it halted play ahead of a decisive tie-break.

On resumption of play, Sharapova edged one of her toughest victories, but the rain returned with a vengeance, and the already-delayed men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was called off until the next day.

This year, the rain played its part again, disrupting many early matches, and returning to throw a spanner in the works for Friday’s scheduled quarter-finals. The result was that the finalists in both the men’s and women’s draws would bring very different experiences to the last day.

On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic had to play both his quarter- and semi-final matches on Saturday, while his opponent, Rafael Nadal, had played on each of Friday and Saturday.

But spare a thought for the disadvantaged women’s finalist who took to court against former champion and No9 seed Karolina Pliskova. Not only did No15 seed Iga Swiatek have to play two matches scheduled just four hours apart but she had to switch courts for those two matches, from Pietrangeli to Grandstand.

Perhaps even more surprising, bearing in mind that Swiatek is the reigning French Open champion, she came into the final having never played on Court Centrale. What is more, she would face, in Pliskova, a woman into her third straight Rome final, a woman who had enjoyed a first-round bye, and who had played her semi-final on centre court. Altogether, Swiatek had spent an hour and a half more on court than her opponent.

The tall, slender Pliskova, a former No1, always has an air of calm about her, and she had every reason to look cooly confident in this first meeting with a woman 10 years her junior, and with just two titles to her name, compared with her own 16.

But the teenage Swiatek has, if not as much experience, a fearless confidence no matter the opponent or court. She strode to her seat, then used every second of the allotted warm-up time, entirely unflustered as the clock ticked down to the start of play.

And what a start. A love hold, a break, another hold to love—and yet another break with a stunning return-of-serve cross-court strike, 4-0.

A searing forehand winner, and it was another love hold: Swiatek was 5-0 with 21 of the 24 points played. And the business-like Pole continued in the same vein, now a backhand cross-court winner, now a winner down the line, 0-40 and three set points. Pliskova found a backhand winner of her own, but that would be only the Czech’s fourth point in the entire set, 6-0, after 19 minutes.

Swiatek had made nine winners for one error, Pliskova just one winner.

In last year’s final, Pliskova also faced a first-set bagel against Simona Halep, but at 0-2 in the second, she was forced to retire injured. There was, thus far, no sign of any physical problem with the Czech, but she was at a loss to halt the winning stroke-making of her opponent.

Twice in a row, Swiatek struck backhands down the line to hold the first game. Pliskova fired herself up with an opening winner in the second game, but a netted backhand brought a smashed racket, and then a double fault handed over the break, 2-0.

The Pole lost her first point on serve in the third game, and all at once looked a touch nervous, first with a weak drop-shot, then a wayward backhand to offer two break-back points.

She, like Pliskova, was struggling to get her first serve in to play, but once the ball was in court, Swiatek grabbed the initiative, two winners, back to deuce, and the Czech’s chance evaporated, 3-0.

Swiatek aced to a love hold for 5-0 after yet another break. This was desperate for Pliskova, whose body language said it all: She looked a beaten woman, her biggest weapon firing at just 40 percent, with with only nine points from the 56 played.

Could she at least get a game on the board? She worked her first game point on her own serve, but netted the next ball, aced for another chance, made another error, and the door slammed shut, 6-0, with a 23rd Pliskova error.

The Czech, who had made only five winners compared with the teenager’s 17, cut a sorry figure, but now she had to sit in the glare of spectators and cameras as the arena was set up to crown Rome’s new champion. She said:

“I think you have days like this when things are not going your way… I tried here and there to make some points, but it was not really working for me. I will try to quickly forget about today.”

As for Swiatek, she had played a near-flawless match, just as she did in winning Roland Garros last autumn. There, she dropped only 28 games in the entire tournament, and judging from this final, she will be one of the strong favourites to defend her title in Paris.

She said: “I am kind of overwhelmed because at the beginning of the tournament, I wasn’t even dreaming of winning, but I’m really happy.”

For now, the 19-year-old has become the newest member of the top 10, and fans can be sure she is destined to climb much higher. What is more, she plays the kind of free-flowing, all-round tennis that will garner the plaudits. And if that is not enough, she has buckets of charm: Italy will delight in its new champion.

During the course of the Rome tournament, however, a couple of her biggest rivals for the French Open title, both of them former champions, left with worrying physical problems.

World No1 Ashleigh Barty retired from her quarter-final against Coco Gauff with an arm injury, forced to stop at 6-4, 2-1 up in extremely heavy and cool conditions.

Meanwhile, reigning Wimbledon champion and world No3 Simona Halep, who was defending her Rome title, picked up a tear in her left calf, and was helped from court during her match against Angelique Kerber.

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