FRENCH OPEN: No. 1 Swiatek enters on 28-match winning streak

FILE - Poland's Iga Swiatek kisses the trophy after winning the final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Sofia Kenin of the U.S. in two sets, 6-4, 6-1, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Swiatek was the 2020 champion at Roland Garros and was seeded No. 1 in the draw for this year’s tournament in Paris.

FILE - Poland's Iga Swiatek kisses the trophy after winning the final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Sofia Kenin of the U.S. in two sets, 6-4, 6-1, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Swiatek was the 2020 champion at Roland Garros and was seeded No. 1 in the draw for this year’s tournament in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)


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PARIS — Here's one measure of just how dominant Iga Swiatek has been as the French Open begins Sunday:

The 28-match winning streak accumulated by the new No. 1 in the WTA rankings has been surpassed by only three women since 2000 — Venus Williams (35 in 2000), Serena Williams (34 in 2013) and Justine Henin (32 in 2008), all former No. 1s, all owners of multiple Grand Slam titles.

Pretty heady company.

"Well, I know that the pressure is going to come, for sure, and I know that on clay, maybe the media are going to call me the favorite," said 2020 French Open champion Swiatek, whose first-round match against 121st-ranked Lesia Tsurenko is scheduled for Monday.

"But honestly, I don't know what to expect, because it's the first time I'm in a position like that and I'm world No. 1," Swiatek said. "For sure, the thing I know is that I'm going have fun playing on clay. ... I just always have more motivation before Roland Garros, so I'm going to use that, for sure."

The 20-year-old from Poland has won her past five tournaments and 42 of her past 43 sets.

"She's definitely setting a high precedent right now," 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu said. "For me, at least, it's very motivating."

Everyone in tennis, it seems, is taking notice.

"She's fresh. She's natural. She's young," 13-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal said. "The way that she's playing this year looks unstoppable."

Probably not exactly unstoppable, of course. So Swiatek knows this run won't last forever.

If it does continue for seven more matches across just shy of two more weeks, though, the first Polish tennis player to be ranked No. 1 and to win a Grand Slam singles title will own a second.

"I'm aware that this streak is something that may be coming to an end soon, so I don't want to be like, you know, heartbroken when it's going to happen," Swiatek said. "I think being aware of that is pretty healthy."

Here are other things to know about the year's second major tournament:

DEFENDING CHAMP

Last year's champion, Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, wasn't sure whether she would be able to try to defend her title because of an injured right elbow that has sidelined her since February.

"I don't really expect much," said Krejcikova, who is No. 2 in the rankings after entering the 2021 French Open at No. 33. "Right now, I feel healthy. I have to knock on wood that I feel good. Also, I think, mentally I'm really recharged."

LOPSIDED BRACKET

The men's bracket is about as unbalanced as can be: The top half of the draw contains the defending champion and No. 1 seed, Novak Djokovic; 13-time champion Rafael Nadal; the 19-year-old Spaniard having the best season of any man, Carlos Alcaraz; and No. 3 Alexander Zverev.

"Pretty stacked," was Zverev's take. "I do think that probably the Roland Garros champion will be in the top half."

Alcaraz is the only member of that quartet who will play Sunday; the other three are scheduled for Monday matches.

One beneficiary of the way it all shook out: No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, the runner-up a year ago and in the draw's bottom half this time.

THE COVID-19 SITUATION

After three pandemic-prompted lockdowns, restrictions have been eased in France, so following limited attendance a year ago because of coronavirus concerns, the crowds will be back at Roland Garros in full force — and, if the rest of Paris is any indication, sans masks.

Being unvaccinated against COVID-19 is not an impediment to travel in France, as long as foreigners pass a test, so Djokovic will be competing, unlike at the Australian Open in January, when he was deported from that country because he has not received any shots.

WHO IS MISSING?

Serena Williams, who hasn't played since getting injured at Wimbledon last year, and her sister, Venus, who last competed at Chicago in August, are not in the women's bracket. Neither is 2021 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose season is done because of an injured knee. Among those out of the men's field are Roger Federer, sidelined since last July; 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini, who had wrist surgery; and two players who pride themselves on an ability to entertain, Nick Kyrgios and Gael Monfils.

AU REVOIR

A pair of 37-year-old Frenchmen who reached the top 10 in the rankings are bidding adieu: 2008 Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon. This is Tsonga's last tournament; Simon is retiring after the season.

"I just feel lucky, because I was able to live this life," Tsonga said.

DECIDING-SET TIEBREAKERS

Women's matches that go to 6-all in a third set and men's that go to 6-all in a fifth will conclude with first-to-10-point tiebreakers. It's the first time deciding-set tiebreakers will be used at Roland Garros, part of an agreement announced in March for all Grand Slam tournaments to adopt the same system.

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Howard Fendrich

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