Having grown up listening to stories from her father about competing at the 1988 Olympics in rowing, then having won a bronze medal herself in doubles at the Summer Youth Olympics, Iga Swiatek had been thinking about competing at the Tokyo Games for some time.
Her focus was on sharp display in a 6-2, 6-2 win over 172nd-ranked Mona Barthel in the opening match on Center Court of the Olympic tennis tournament Saturday.
Swiatek, who became the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam title at last year’s French Open, jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set and then broke midway through the second against her German opponent.
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It clearly wasn’t the setting that Swiatek had dreamed of, with spectators banned because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t seem to affect her one bit.
The only sounds inside the vast stadium came from cars and trains passing nearby, mixed with the thwacking of Swiatek’s forehand, which accounted for 12 of her 16 winners.
Swiatek also committed only 16 unforced errors to Barthel’s 30.
The eighth-ranked Swiatek will next face either Paula Badosa of Spain or Kristina Mladenovic of France.
With the heat and humidity stifling from the start, players wrapped towels filled with ice around their necks to cool down on changeovers.
The temperature was 90 degrees F (32 degrees C).
Swiatek’s father, Tomasz, competed in quadruple sculls in Seoul, finishing seventh. At the 2018 Youth Games, Swiatek paired with Kaja Juvan of Slovenia to win a doubles medal.
Also advancing on the hard courts of the Ariake Tennis Park were recent French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of ROC and Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
Pavlyuchenkova appeared to struggle with the heat during a 6-0, 6-1 win over Sara Errani.
Midway through the second set, Pavlyuchenkova shoved bags of ice up her skirt on a changeover and reached for an air tube for more relief.
Golubic beat Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia 6-4, 6-1 and will next face either home favorite Naomi Osaka or Zheng Saisai of China.
The Osaka-Zheng match was originally scheduled to open play on center court but that encounter was moved to Sunday before Osaka lit the cauldron in Friday’s opening ceremony.
Later, Novak Djokovic opens against No. 139 Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
Djokovic is attempting to become the first man to complete a Golden Slam by winning all four major tennis tournaments and an Olympic singles gold medal in the same year.