Never Underestimate Caroline Garcia on a Hot Streak

WTA Jurmala Caroline Garcia

Caroline Garcia’s brief stint as the World No. 4 was largely built on a phenomenal fortnight back in 2017, when she took WTA 1000 titles in Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back. Over just fourteen days, the Frenchwoman grabbed 10 wins, including three top 10 scalps (#2 Simona Halep, #3 Elina Svitolina, #9 Dominika Cibulkova). That was when the 28-year-old proved that when she gets hot, there’s no stopping her. After a couple of weaker campaigns (she finished the last season at 74th in the WTA Rankings), Garcia is back to that incredible form. Only this time, it’s lasting way longer than two weeks.

The Frenchwoman was well on the way to another middle-of-the-road season with only nine wins in twenty matches by the middle of June. A title in Bad Homburg (where she saved a matchpoint against Alize Cornet in the semifinals) was the turning point. Less than three months later, Garcia finds herself with a 28-4 win/loss record since then. She’s reached the third round at the US Open without any issues and has to be considered as one of the title contenders.

Huge win in Warsaw

At first, comparing this hot streak to her perfect fortnight in China in 2017 was pretty much impossible. From Bad Homburg to her second title of 2022 in Warsaw, Garcia faced just two top 30 opponents. The standard of play seemed incredibly high, but with the Frenchwoman facing weaker adversaries, one couldn’t be certain. In the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Poland Open, Garcia faced World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and took her out 6-1 1-6 6-4.

It was by no means a perfect performance from the Pole, who didn’t serve well and allowed herself to get overrun. However, while you could probably find some other players who could beat the 21-year-old on that day, no one could have done it in the same way Garcia did. A lot of the discourse about Swiatek’s 37-match win streak was about the Pole improving her serve and being able to reap the free points and blast +1 forehands from the advantageous positions it gave her.

But Garcia didn’t have to adjust her usual returning strategy – she took Swiatek’s serve just like she usually handles any other opponent. Standing inside the baseline even on the first delivery, immediately ready to pounce and put pressure on the 21-year-old. All in all, it gave the Pole no space to execute her game whatsoever. Everyone else on the tour would have given her a bit more time, but not Garcia. It was a truly special win for the Frenchwoman, especially with Swiatek playing at home and being unbeaten on clay in 2022 until that point.

Third WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati

This was a pretty huge sign that Garcia means business, but with the Frenchwoman losing in the opening round at Toronto to the aforementioned Cornet, there was an aura of uncertainty regarding whether she’d be able to carry that form through to the US Open. If anyone was still doubtful whether the 28-year-old was having the best couple of months in her life, Cincinnati cleared it all up.

Despite starting from the qualifying draw (and actually dropping a set in each of her matches there), Garcia managed to defeat three top 10 opponents to win her third WTA 1000 title. #3 Maria Sakkari, #7 Aryna Sabalenka, and #8 Jessica Pegula all fell to the in-form Frenchwoman, who was able to come out on top against Petra Kvitova in the final. With the Western & Southern Open using the same lighter balls as the US Open this year, it became clear that if Garcia can take that form to New York, she’d be among the most dangerous players in the draw.

No break points faced yet, serve and return masterclass

Two matches into her 2022 US Open campaign, the 28-year-old is yet to experience any trouble on her serve. Neither Anna Kalinskaya nor Kamilla Rakhimova were able to generate a breakpoint on the Frenchwoman’s delivery. Meanwhile, Garcia has managed to keep her opponents under constant pressure with her deep-inside-the-court returning position.

Her playstyle is really all about that serve and return game, plus the quick points she’s able to play after either shot. There are a couple of key differences between Garcia and the classic power-oriented players like Aryna Sabalenka or Madison Keys. First of all, she takes the ball much earlier and loves venturing forward to the net. The Frenchwoman is also a more fluid mover than most hard-hitters, allowing her to stick around in extended rallies and look for opportunities to counter if the opponent gets her moving.

But usually, Garcia doesn’t give her rivals that chance. She’s relentless in seeking out opportunities to attack and doesn’t get flustered when things don’t go her way. This is very important with the hit-or-miss returning strategy – one might often feel like the Frenchwoman should move backward and try to put the ball back in play instead of barely getting a racket on some of the stronger deliveries. The 28-year-old knows what she’s doing though and realizes that if she links a few strong return points together, the pressure on the server will be just devastating.

Shades of doubles expertise in her singles game, what’s next up in New York?

Garcia also resided as high as World No. 2 in the doubles ranking, partnering Kristina Mladenovic to win the French Open twice (2016, 2022). Some attributes that make her so strong in that discipline are also incredibly important in her singles game. After all, doubles is all about being comfortable at the net, plus relies even more heavily than singles on serve and return. Aggressive strategy on the latter often pays off, because if you just play it without much intent, there’s a big chance that your shot will be cut off at the net.

Coming back to the 2022 US Open, the first couple of rounds have been very straightforward for the Frenchwoman. But with the 2019 champion, Bianca Andreescu, awaiting her in round three, the next encounter will be a completely different challenge. One thing’s certain though – when Garcia is riding a wave of confidence, she’s capable of beating just about anyone.

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