With Swiatek out, who will win Wimbledon now?

Iga Swiatek’s quest to conquer grass will have to wait another year.

On Saturday, the five-time major champion and world No. 1 was defeated in the third round at Wimbledon by Yulia Putinseva 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. Swiatek looked to be on her way to the round of 16 during the opening set, but then had few answers for Putinseva, who changed her game plan and took control of the pace in the final two sets.

Swiatek, 23, is just the second woman in the Open Era to lose multiple matches as the top seed at Wimbledon before the round of 16, joining Martina Hingis.

After clinching the victory with her third match point, an exuberant Putinseva received a standing ovation as the No. 1 Court crowd roared, clearly in awe of what she had just done. The fans continued to cheer during her postmatch interview — so much so, she had to ask for the first question to be repeated as she couldn’t hear.

“I have no words, I’m just so happy right now,” Putinseva then told the crowd. “I played so good. … This is crazy, guys.”

So what does the loss mean for Swiatek and the rest of the Wimbledon field? The takeaways from Saturday’s surprising upset:

The mental toll as the favorite is tough

Entering Saturday, Swiatek was on a 21-match win streak and hadn’t lost since the semifinals in Stuttgart in April. Over that span, she had won her fifth major title at Roland Garros, as well as the titles in Madrid and Rome. She has a staggering 3,642-point lead over No. 2 Coco Gauff in the most recent rankings.

All of this to say, Swiatek is at least a favorite, if not the favorite, in every tournament she plays, no matter the surface.

But that’s not easy. And especially not on grass, a surface in which she remains relatively inexperienced and unproven. She saw a 37-match winning streak come to an end in the same round at Wimbledon two years ago, and her then-opponent Alize Cornet said she knew grass would be where she could potentially beat her.

Swiatek has talked about the pressure of such expectations before. When Aryna Sabalenka began to put Swiatek’s No. 1 ranking in jeopardy last summer, Swiatek fought hard to hold onto it, but ultimately lost it following the US Open. She said she was “sad” to relinquish it but had found the months trying to keep it “exhausting.”

During Saturday’s loss, Swiatek looked confused and unable to make adjustments, especially as Putinseva sped up her game. She had 38 unforced errors, compared to Putinseva’s 15, and simply didn’t show the mental fortitude she has displayed elsewhere, like during her near-loss to Naomi Osaka in the French Open in May. There were multiple times during the match that the normally unflappable Swiatek was seen muttering to herself in disgust and looking frustrated by her game.

“I totally let her come back to the game in the second set,” Swiatek said. “I shouldn’t have done that. I made some mistakes, as well. But for sure, she used her chance.”

Swiatek’s lack of grass preparation was evident

Swiatek’s best result at Wimbledon in five appearances was a quarterfinal run last year. She has won 22 titles in her short career but has never won a grass tournament. And she hasn’t even played many.

This year, Swiatek opted out of playing any of the lead-in events on the surface after her win at Roland Garros and instead chose to rest and recover. She told reporters at Roland Garros she simply didn’t have the proper time to prepare for the surface after the long clay season.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Swiatek said. “If I would lose [at Roland Garros] earlier, maybe I would be able to play two more weeks on grass and then be a better grass player, but if I [had to] choose, I love playing on clay, so I’m not going to give up that ever.”

Her inexperience was clear on Saturday, especially against a player who has had success on the surface. Putinseva, who had never won a set against Swiatek during their four previous meetings, won the title at Birmingham last month and looked far more at ease moving around the court.

Swiatek simply couldn’t adjust to Putinseva’s tactical changes, speed and variety of shot-making. Tied at 1 in the second set, Putinseva then won the next nine games and Swiatek couldn’t seem to do anything to stop the rout. Not even an extended bathroom break before the decider could help her refocus as Putinseva won 16 of the first 19 points in the final set for a 4-0 lead. If Swiatek had more recent experience playing on grass, would she have been able to respond more efficiently or successfully? Swiatek said she doesn’t think so.

“You never know. I could have got injured in the second match because I practiced straightaway after Roland Garros in that case,” she said Saturday, “I think my coaches are pretty good at planning. They chose the right option for this year. But we’ll see what’s going to happen next year.”

Putinseva thrives as a spoiler

Three-time major champion and former world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty called it “one of the best days of [Putinseva’s] career” while commentating on the match for the BBC, and it marks her best result at Wimbledon. However, it’s not the first time she has defeated the top-ranked player on grass.

In 2019, Putinseva upset then-No. 1 Osaka in the first round at Birmingham 6-2, 6-3, and then went on to defeat her again just weeks later in the opening round at Wimbledon. Putinseva said that knowing she had done it before helped make her believe she could do it again.

“I was thinking actually during play that I did beat the world No. 1 before on grass,” Putinseva said. “So I think it’s quite meant to be on grass.”

Clearly relishing the role of giant-slayer and not shying away on the biggest stages, she also had the momentum and confidence from earning her first career title on grass just weeks ago. Putinseva, 29, said she focused on her strategy — and not on her opponent — in order to pull off the win. She said she knew she needed to “stay intense for every point” and never let up.

“I was just so focused on just playing fast and not give her any time, and that worked,” Putinseva told the crowd. “So that’s pretty much it.”

Putinseva is a three-time major quarterfinalist and will next face 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Monday with a spot in the last eight on the line.

The title is now anyone’s to win

With grass already viewed as the most open of the surfaces, especially for the women, and with several other contenders already eliminated from competition, Swiatek’s shocking defeat makes an already-impossible-to-predict field even more so.

Marketa Vondrousova, the reigning champion, was upset in the first round. Sabalenka, the world No. 3 and two-time Australian Open champion, withdrew before play began because of a shoulder injury. Ons Jabeur, who has reached the past two Wimbledon finals, was beaten Saturday by Elina Svitolina.

So this could be a very interesting final week at the All England Club. Of course, in Swiatek’s half of the draw, the winner of the Putinseva-Ostapenko match could certainly go even further. And 2022 champion Elena Rybakina had a convincing victory over Caroline Wozniacki on Saturday, and is likely now the favorite to advance to the final. But Svitolina, who reached the semifinals last year, and 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, could be obstacles.

On the other side of the draw, Gauff, the No. 2 seed and reigning US Open champion, has been dominant in her run to the round of 16 and is yet to drop a set. Emma Raducanu, the British favorite and 2021 US Open champion, has looked resurgent and certainly could continue to find magic in front of the home crowd.

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