PARIS (AP) — Jessica Pegula reached the French Open quarterfinals before running into can't-seem-to-lose Iga Swiatek on Wednesday. And four months ago, at the year's first Grand Slam tournament, Pegula reached the Australian Open quarterfinals before running into eventual champion Ash Barty.
Two majors, two strong runs, two meetings with the No. 1 player at the time. So Pegula, a 28-year-old from New York, can offer a bit of a unique perspective on what it's like to face both Swiatek and Barty, who retired in March at age 25.
Swiatek, who replaced Barty atop the WTA rankings, benefited from the chair umpire’s no-call on a double bounce that gave her a first-set service break during a key five-game run and moved into the semifinals at Roland Garros by beating Pegula 6-3, 6-2 to extend her winning streak to 33 matches.
Swiatek's run is the longest on tour since Serena Williams won 34 in a row in 2013.
“To be honest, she kind of plays like a guy. And, I mean that as, Ash was a similar way, where they don’t play like a typical girl where they hit kind of flat and the ball kind of goes through the court. She plays a little more unorthodox in the fact that she has, like, a really heavy forehand,” Pegula said about Swiatek, “but at the same time she also likes to step in and take it really early, and I think clay gives her more time, and I think it makes her forehand even harder to deal with.”
Swiatek plays No. 20 Daria Kasatkina in one women's semifinal Thursday, when the other will be No. 18 Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old American, against unseeded Martina Trevisan, a 28-year-old from Italy.
Gauff and her partner, Pegula, are also into the semifinals in women's doubles.
Of the last four women in singles, only Swiatek has previously participated in the semifinals of a major tournament, losing at that stage at the Australian Open in January and taking the title at the 2020 French Open when she was ranked outside the top 50.
“This year it’s a little bit different, because I’m not an underdog,” she said, “and everything has changed, honestly.”
Kasatkina beat No. 29 Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6 (5) in a match between two Russian players who will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon later this month because of that country's invasion of Ukraine. They combined for 75 unforced errors, 50 by Kudermetova.
“It was a roller coaster,” said Kasatkina, who hadn't reached a major quarterfinal in four years.
In the men's quarterfinals Wednesday, 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic got to the French Open semifinals for the first time by hitting 33 aces to defeat No. 7 Andrey Rublev 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (10-2) in 4 hours, 10 minutes.
The 20th-seeded Cilic, who is 33, now takes on Casper Ruud, 23, or Holger Rune, 19, on Friday for a berth in the final.
A day after her 21st birthday, Swiatek was not at her dominant best against the 11th-seeded Pegula, whose parents own the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres. As usual for most of this season, Swiatek was good enough to end up on the right side of the scoreline. She has not lost a match since February, winning her past five tournaments.
The persistent pressure applied to opponents is another similarity Pegula sees between Swiatek and Barty.
“You get those few chances and you kind of feel it weighing on you that if you don’t take advantage of it, you’re like, ‘Shoot, my chance was gone, and now I have to work so hard to either hold serve or get back in this game’ or whatever it was,” Pegula said. “Mentally, that’s also what they do so well and what I’ve been trying to do better.”
On a sunny afternoon at Court Philippe Chatrier, with the temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius), Swiatek's start was so-so for the second match in a row, although she did wind up with nearly twice as many winners as Pegula, 30 to 16.
“I feel like the ball is flying a little bit faster,” Swiatek said, “so I had to adjust to that, for sure.”
She trailed 3-2 in the opening set, and it was 3-all when she earned a break point while Pegula served.
Pegula tried a drop shot, and Swiatek ran to it, reaching out to flip the ball over the net at an impossible angle. Pegula could not get to that response, and the point went to Swiatek, giving her a 4-3 edge.
But, as Pegula later saw on a replay on the overhead videoboard, it should not have: The ball landed a second time on Swiatek's side of the net before going off her racket. Chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph should have ruled the point belonged to Pegula, but he didn't notice the double bounce; unlike at some other tournaments, officials at the French Open can't consult video.
“I was like, ‘There’s no freaking way she got that.’ I was like, ‘Seriously?!’ Pegula said at her news conference. ”I looked at (Joseph) and he didn’t call it. You can’t say anything. And the problem is, once they make their decision, you can’t go back and change it."
From there, Swiatek wouldn't drop another game until she led by a set and 1-0 in the second. In all, she took 10 of the last 12 games.
When a reporter mentioned that double bounce, Swiatek seemed to stifle a smile, as if she had anticipated the question.
“If it was two bounces, then I’m sorry," she said, noting: "These moments are pretty tricky, because it’s all on the umpire.”
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