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Iga Swiatek looks strongest of big three contenders for Wimbledon

For all the talk about a big three in the women’s game, when it comes to this year’s Wimbledon, there remain doubts about each of them.



The world No 1, Iga Swiatek, has looked the most solid, her 6-2, 7-5 second-round win over Petra Martic on Friday tougher than the score looked but still comfortable. Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka have both shown vulnerability, leaving the door open for others to come through.



Rybakina, the defending champion, dropped a set in her opening match against Shelby Rogers and struggled for much of the second set against Alizé Cornet in round two.



Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, cruised through her opener but then lost the first set on Friday in her third-round battle with Varvara Gracheva, a Russian who has switched her nationality to French. Both play in round three on Saturday.



Swiatek, who took her grand slam tally to four by winning the French Open last month, is now just one win away from making the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the first time.



The Pole, a former junior champion here, was pushed hard by Martic, the world No 29, but came through unscathed, despite a late wobble in the second set when, after holding match point on the Martic serve at 5-3, she lost 10 straight points.



She responded well, however, breaking again and serving out for victory at the second time of asking. She will play the Swiss Belinda Bencic next. “It wasn’t easy,” Swiatek said. “Petra was really playing well. I’m happy with my performance, I feel like I’m doing well on grass, that’s the most important thing for me.”



For a set and a half, Sabalenka looked all at sea against Gracheva, unable to find her game. Some of her serves were miles wide of their intended mark, a throwback to the yips that afflicted her game a couple of years ago. But she recovered to win 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.



“I didn’t play my best tennis, it was a really crazy, crazy experience,” she said. “Then I changed my strings, kind of adjusted my game a little bit, started feeling better on court. I just kept telling myself, keep fighting, keep trying and probably you’ll be able to turn around this game.”



At one stage in the second set, Sabalenka was so distraught she let out a huge scream. If it was not quite the Serena Williams roar, it had a similar effect. “I was little bit crazy in that moment,” she admitted. “I mean, I can’t throw my racket on the grass, so I felt like at least I need to scream, kind of lose it a little bit. After that I felt a little bit better. I felt a little relief inside. I felt like I started thinking a little bit better.”



Sabalenka’s third-round opponent will be Anna Blinkova but there are bigger dangers in her half, including Ons Jabeur and Madison Keys, who both won on Friday, and the two-time champion, Petra Kvitova, who cruised into the third round with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.



Sasnovich beat Kvitova in the first round here in 2018, a match that epitomised the problems the Czech has had with nerves at Wimbledon, despite her two title wins, in 2011 and 2014. “Other grand slams I am more relaxed than I am here probably,” said the 33-year-old, who now plays the Serbian qualifier, Natalija Stevanovic.



“Every time I’m here, I’m trying to be relaxed as well. Not easy. I’m trying every time. I’m still getting older and older. Still with the experience I’m trying to find out what I can do new, what I can’t. So far it’s OK, so we’ll see.”

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