ROME – Top-ranked Iga Swiatek was tested before pulling out a 6-4, 6-1 victory over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to reach the Italian Open quarterfinals and extend her winning streak to 25 matches.
Azarenka took a 3-0 lead before Swiatek won five straight games in a grueling first set that lasted 1 hour, 20 minutes.
“My first serve wasn’t working properly,” Swiatek said “But I’m happy that I could kind of win ugly in the first set, then improve in the second. It gives me confidence that even when my game is not 100% good, I can still win matches.”
Fellow top-ranked player Novak Djokovic, by contrast, faced much less resistance in a 6-2, 6-2 win over Stan Wawrinka, who was playing only his second tournament after undergoing two surgeries on his left foot.
At 1 hour, 14 minutes, Djokovic finished his match off in less time than the first set between Swiatek and Azarenka.
Djokovic, a five-time champion in Rome, will next play Felix Auger-Aliassime, who ended the run of American qualifier Marcos Giron with a 6-3, 6-2 victory. It will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime.
Later, 10-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal was playing Denis Shapovalov.
Swiatek is attempting to win her fifth straight tournament and defend her title in Rome.
The last player to win more consecutive matches was Serena Williams, who had a streak of 27 in a row over 2014 and 2015.
“(The streak) doesn’t really matter for me because every match is different,” Swiatek said. “In many matches, I struggled this season, even though I won them. Anything can happen. Every match is a different story.”
Swiatek’s run makes her a favorite to win a second French Open when the year’s second Grand Slam gets underway in 10 days. When Swiatek won at Roland Garros in 2020 she was ranked No. 54 – making her the lowest-ranked woman to win the Paris major in the Open era.
In a sign of how challenging it was for Swiatek to hold serve on the red clay court at the Foro Italico, she played more than twice as many points on her serve than Azarenka did – 98 to 47.
Azarenka was rattled when a spectator entered the front row of the mostly empty VIP section just behind her as she was facing a break point late in the first set. When she then double-faulted to hand Swiatek control of the set, she slammed her racket in frustration and complained to the chair umpire about the mid-game interruption.
Swiatek will next face 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who eliminated Croatian qualifier Petra Martic 6-4, 6-4.
The only previous meeting in singles between Swiatek and Andreescu came in a 2016 junior Fed Cup match between Poland and Canada, which Swiatek won in three sets.
“It was kind of a breakthrough match for me,” Swiatek said. “It was the first match I actually felt that I can do it and I can win with anybody, because she was also playing really solid game at that time.”
In other matches, third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka beat Madrid Open finalist Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-4 and will next play Amanda Anisimova, who eliminated Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-2.
The loudest cheers of the day were for Jannik Sinner, the 20-year-old Italian who beat Filip Krajinovic 6-2, 7-6 (6) to reach the quarterfinals for the first time at his home tournament.
Sinner will next face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who rallied past Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 for a tour-leading 29th win of the year.
Also, 2017 Rome champion Alexander Zverev, who is also coming off a run to the Madrid final, beat Alex De Minaur 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Zverev, who is still seeking his first title of the year, has his father and coach, Alexander, back on the circuit with him after a prolonged absence for reasons the family has kept personal.
When Zverev won the ATP Finals in November, his older brother and fellow pro, Mischa, was coaching him.
“I was missing a coach for six months. That’s what was missing,” Zverev said. “That’s why I took Sergi Bruguera on – because we didn’t quite know how long it would take my father to be back.
“I’m very happy for him to be back here. It gives me a certain calmness, a certain confidence as well, because he’s been there from the beginning of my career. I think nobody knows me better on the court than he does.”