If Krejcikova is Swiatek’s kryptonite, what can rest of WTA learn from it?

If Krejcikova is Swiatek’s kryptonite, what can rest of WTA learn from it?

For a player who has been described as a “great problem solver”, Iga Swiatek might have been presented with her biggest problem to solve.

In the last five months, Barbora Krejcikova has twice done what most of the WTA Tour has been unable to do over the last year: beat Swiatek.

Former French Open champion Krejcikova halted Swiatek’s dominance Middle East dominance in impressive fashion as she won the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships 6-4 6-2 against the world No. 1. It is Krejcikova’s second victory over Swiatek in a final after she also beat her to clinch the Ostrava Open title in October.

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Krejcikova is the only player to beat Swiatek in her 15 tour finals aside from Polona Hercog, who denied Swiatek the title in her first WTA final in April 2019.

So why has Krejcikova seemingly been Swiatek’s kryptonite?

“I love challenges,” said Krejcikova by way of explanation after the Dubai final.

“When there is somebody that is really tough, I just love to go out there and see where I am, if I can beat this player, if I cannot beat this player. It just gives me extra, extra push.

“When you play with Iga, you have to suffer, otherwise you’re not going to win because she’s everywhere. She plays great shots. She likes to play long rallies. So you have to suffer. I don’t mind that.”

Krejcikova did not just suffer against Swiatek, she had a smart gameplan, seized control of the contest early on, and showed resilience and courage when the world No. 1 came back at her. Swiatek was twice able to recover breaks in the opening set, but Krejcikova did not falter and responded by reeling off eight points in a row to win the set.

Swiatek, who was involved in a tetchy confrontation with the umpire between sets after being given a time violation, failed to convert four break-point chances in the second set before losing serve herself. Krejcikova broke again for a 5-2 lead and served out the match in the next game, claiming her sixth victory in her last seven singles finals.

What can the rest of the WTA learn from Krejcikova’s win?

Perhaps not that much they didn’t know already.

Swiatek has shown in the past that she can be most vulnerable against flat, hard hitters. Two of her last three losses before the Dubai final were against Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, who both possess powerful groundstrokes and strong serves. Rybakina won 80% of first-serve points when she beat Swiatek at the Australian Open last month and hit 24 winners vs 15 from Swiatek. Afterwards Rybakina spoke about being “aggressive” and trying to “attack her from the first ball”.

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Even going further back, Swiatek’s only loss on clay last year was against Caroline Garcia, who was able to take time away from the world No. 1 with aggressive returns and shot making. And in Cincinnati last summer, Madison Keys hit double the amount of winners as Swiatek when she beat her.

It clearly helps to be playing well, as Krejcikova was. She was dialled in from the start and her gameplan was clear.

To bring up her first break point she pushed Swiatek on the defensive with a deep return and then hit two attacking cross-court backhands, the second so good that it was out of Swiatek’s reach. On the next point Krejcikova was pushed into the corner but then got a ball down the middle and didn’t hold back, hitting a backhand winner that Swiatek didn’t move for.

Krejcikova was also very aggressive on Swiatek’s second serve. At times she was almost halfway up to the service line by the time Swiatek hit her serve, a clear sign of intent and willingness to attack. It paid off as she won 13 of Swiatek’s 17 second-serve points and broke five times.

Krejcikova closed the match out in style with two aces and a forehand winner crushed onto the baseline.

She finished with 23 winners to 19 unforced errors, while Swiatek had 10 winners to 27 unforced errors.

Krejcikova’s display was even more impressive given just how good Swiatek had looked over the last two weeks. In her last three matches in Dubai she had dropped just nine games, and in Doha the previous week she had lost just five, thrashing world No. 3 Jessica Pegula 6-3 6-0 in the final.

But Krejcikova had hit form herself after saving four match points against Daria Kasatkina, ending Sabalenka’s 13-match win streak and then beating Pegula in the semi-finals.

Perhaps it’s significant that Krejcikova, who is a 10-time Grand Slam doubles champion as well as 2021 French Open singles winner, seems to relish the challenge of facing a force like Swiatek.

“When I see what she’s doing and what she was able to achieve and how she’s playing and how she’s unbeatable just everything that she’s doing at such a young age, it just really motivates me,” she told the WTA.

“It’s a great feeling if I can go and practice with her or play a match against her. That is such a big challenge for me when I’m playing her. I always play her with full stands and a pretty amazing atmosphere that I really enjoy.”

Despite the defeat Swiatek still has a 4,485-point lead at the top of the WTA rankings over Sabalenka. Krejcikova has moved up 14 places to No. 16 in the rankings.

The next big event on the WTA calendar is Indian Wells, where Swiatek will be defending champion.

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The 2023 Australian Open was live and the French Open will follow on discovery+, the Eurosport app and at eurosport.com

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