Qualifier Lesley Kerkhove almost trips world number one Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon

The 21-year-old Polish player extended her winning streak to 37 matches

The more her winning streak continues the more the world number one Iga Swiatek will feel a cold actuarial hand on her shoulder saying, sister the numbers now are running against you, this can’t last forever. It is a law of diminishing returns like no other.

In Swiatek’s head just five more matches to winning her first Wimbledon title is hardly being greedy, not when she is trying to write her own history.

In what was signalled to be a straightforward passage into the third round against a 138th ranked, 30-year-old Dutch woman, who came through the qualifying event and got into Wimbledon as a luck loser, became a game of jitters, or, as Swiatek was concerned, holding a bag of nerves and her game together.

The 21-year-old, who had already strung together the longest winning streak in the 21st century with 36 matches and six consecutive titles just extended that to 37 with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over Lesley Kerkhove. Swiatek left the centre court, half relieved, half elated and not quite sure of whether she should kiss her lucky rabbit’s paw or feel stoked to have overcome a hard hitting woman from the Netherlands to stay in the main draw.

“Honestly, during a match I don’t even think about the previous matches and the streak because I don’t think it’s giving me anything at that point,” said the top seed. “I’m just trying to figure out what to do better and how to kind of come back.

“I would say the grass is pretty tricky for me. I’m not going to lie. I mean, I guess you can see that I’m not playing maybe as efficiently as on other surfaces. Basically my confidence is getting better overall. But this tournament is tricky and I’m still feeling out how to play the best game here.”

Easily the biggest moment in the career of Kerkhove, her early evening was basking in the London sunshine and successfully queering the pitch for the expected polish procession. Swiatek, who was hitting long, catching the net and misjudging the bounce and pace off the grass, survived.

In the first set she won just 36 per cent of her second serves as Kerkhove came in swinging with nothing to lose. While the top seed won the first set 6-4 by cleaning up the last four games, she again fell into a dissolute mood early in the second, her shot making poor and her execution uncommitted, sometimes the ball floating feet outside the lines. Her last two points with Kerkhove serving for the set went wide and long for 4-6.

There was a setting of sorts in the third set as would be expected of the best player in the world. All it took was some consistency from Swiatek and that’s what she found, shooting to 5-2. The pressure was successfully turned over and forced the luck loser to come up with some magic. But that was above her pay grade and despite her 31 unforced errors, the 21-year-old seized the moment to win number 37 in just over two hours.

“On grass I feel like everything changes,” said Swiatek, who prefers the clay surface where sliding into shots is imperative. “You have to adjust the movement. I mean, for sure I really like how I move on court, especially when I can slide, when I can recover quickly. Here I can’t really slide. I have to slow down before hitting the ball, so it’s tricky.

“I would say, I mean, I think I would play well on grass if I would have kind of more time to just play on this surface. Yeah, I mean, every year it’s only like four weeks, so I feel it’s not enough to learn properly. I guess I can see other players who learn how to do that, so I still have hope.”

Former winner Simona Halep came through her second match with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens, while American eighth seed Jessica Pegula also advanced. She beat Britain’s Harriet Dart over three sets. Dart was bullseye in the first set but the flights came off in two and three losing those 6-3, 6-1.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times