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World No. 1 Swiatek holds off Collins, sets up semifinal clash with Pegula at NBO

Iga Swiatek Iga Swiatek - The Canadian Press

After breezing through the start of the match, Iga Swiatek felt the momentum shift out of her favour.

But instead of tightening up, the world No. 1 for 71 weeks running increased her intensity — and held off American qualifier Danielle Collins, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 on centre court Friday night to reach the National Bank Open semifinals.

"Being intense is the most important thing,” said the 22-year-old from Poland. “She's playing really fast, so sometimes it's hard to do that, but I'm happy that in the third set I could even increase the level and just play really powerful and fast."

Swiatek will meet fourth seed Jessica Pegula of the United States on Saturday in her first-ever semifinal at the NBO. The WTA 1000 event runs through Sunday at IGA Stadium.

Collins, who started slow, rediscovered her form midway through the second set and fought back from down a break to even the match at one set apiece.

With Collins gaining steam, Swiatek says she was able to stay calm knowing she’d have a chance to regroup before a third set.

Once there, her plan was simple.

"I really wanted to just swing it,” she said. “I try to not overanalyze everything. I have easy solutions.”

That proved true as she jumped to an early break. Then, up 4-2, Swiatek hit a backhand winner off the line after a Collins double fault to earn a break point before serving out the match.

Collins bows out after a terrific run in Montreal.

After winning two three-set qualifying matches — one over hometown favourite Eugenie Bouchard — she beat Wimbledon semifinalist Elina Svitolina, No. 8 seed Maria Sakkari and another local in Leylah Fernandez without dropping a set.

The 29-year-old, who began the tournament ranked 48th, said the fatigue of playing her sixth match in the tournament may have played a role in her performance, but not as much as her opponent.

"I feel like it's always tough when you have to play the No. 1 player in the world,” she said. “It's not easy to get past.”

Collins did have success before Swiatek took over the top ranking, however.

The former world No. 7 reached upset Swiatek with a dominant 6-4, 6-1 win in the Australian Open semifinals last year.

After that meeting, Swiatek said Collins hit the “fastest balls I have ever played in a match.”

"Today I knew that she could do this again because I already experienced it,” said Swiatek on Friday. “So I wanted to be proactive and be just really intense for her to feel the pressure as well."

The script on Friday night was much different.

Swiatek asserted herself early, jumping to an early 3-0 lead before breaking Collins again to go up 5-1. Collins broke back to put some pressure on her opponent, but Swiatek held off the late surge and served out the set on her second attempt.

Midway through the second set, things started to change as Collins began looking a little more like the player who was putting on a shotmaking clinic previously in the tournament.

Tied 4-4, Collins fended off a break point after Swiatek hit a backhand winner to go up 40-30, before hitting an ace and a quick forehand to hold.

In the ensuing game, Collins hit multiple backhand return winners en route to breaking Swiatek, taking the set, and tying a match Swiatek appeared to have in control.

"In those moments, I was playing pretty aggressive, I had an aggressive mindset,” said Collins. “Trying to pick some balls off at the net and finish some shots in the service line. Sometimes I didn't get in there, but I feel like having that mentality definitely helped me play a little bit more aggressive.”

Against such a tough opponent, Collins said she had trouble keeping it up.

“When the match got away from me a little bit, I think I was a little bit too passive at times,” she said. “And Iga really capitalized on that.”

Earlier Friday, Pegula got the best of doubles partner Coco Gauff, winning 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 in singles play on Friday to advance.

The two players were scheduled to take the court together again later Friday — this time as teammates. However, the world No. 1 duo in doubles withdrew from the event after their intense singles match.

“Always a tough match,” said Pegula of facing her friend. “We know each other's games so well, so we kind of know what we're going to do to each other, know what our goal is.

“It's just kind of trying to execute it at the right times and as best as possible. I think I was just able to do it a little bit better today.”

Elsewhere in doubles play, Canadians Marina Stakusic and Carol Zhao lost 3-6, 6-3, 10-6 to fourth seeds Nicole Melichar-Martinez of the United States and Ellen Perez of Australia in round of 16 play.

Later Friday, Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, who upset second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus earlier, won her second match of the day, beating Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4 to make the semifinals.

She’ll play the winner of Friday’s late game between third seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and 10th seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the semifinals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2023.