August 20, 2022

RIYADH: Just over a week ago, an exhausted Iga Swiatek sat down with a small group of reporters in a quiet corner of the media center below Roland Garros’ Philippe Chatrier stadium to discuss her feelings after he lifted the second Grand Slam trophy of his young career.

The world No. 1 engaged in idle conversation before everyone gathered for the roundtable. She spoke of going to the nearby Bois de Boulogne – a public park close to Roland Garros – at least four or five times during the fortnight of the tournament, where she tried to connect with nature and relax on her days. off.

She expressed interest in attending the next day’s men’s final between her idol Rafael Nadal and Norway’s Casper Ruud and wondered if it would be a long showdown.

Swiatek’s French Open final that afternoon, against American teenager Coco Gauff, had lasted just 68 minutes.

The triumph on Parisian clay allowed Swiatek to extend her current winning streak to 35 matches, the longest unbeaten streak in women’s tennis this century. Only two tennis players have racked up longer winning streaks in the 2000s: Novak Djokovic (43) and Roger Federer (41).

The 21-year-old Pole has won her last six tournaments in a row – she hasn’t lost a match since February – and will head to Wimbledon later this month in a class apart from the rest of the field.

Swiatek leads the women’s standings with a total of 8,631 points; her closest rival, world number 2 Anett Kontaveit, is more than 4,000 points behind.

Fascinating young mind who loves math and probability and travels the tennis tour with a sports psychologist who gave her the tools to gain a mental edge over her competitors on the court, Swiatek gave insight into how she has addressed in recent months, how she handled the pressure in Paris and where her greatest ambitions lie.

She feels like she cracked the code

The way Swiatek took on the world No.1 role so seamlessly after Ashleigh Barty’s surprise retirement in March was remarkable. From the mental side of the sport to the technical aspects of the game, it seems Swiatek has somehow cracked the tennis code.

When she gets into trouble on the field, she finds a way to solve the problem and comes out on top. In the face of immense pressure, she rises above.

From the outside, it looks like Swiatek currently has the game’s cheat codes in her back pocket and has an answer for whatever comes her way. Does it feel like that to her?

She said: “Yeah, I do, and it’s great, because I’ve never felt like this before, and it gives a lot in terms of confidence and not being so scared.

“Because I was very scared before the matches; I still do sometimes, but it’s much, much better to know that I can find solutions and really solve problems. It’s totally different.

She doesn’t lack motivation.

Swiatek has had a strong start to 2022, reaching the Australian Open semi-finals thanks to adopting a more aggressive game that has helped her become a force on the hard courts, alongside of his beloved clay.

When she won Doha, Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back, she became the first player to win the first three Women’s Tennis Association 1000-level tournaments of the season. In the process, she also became world No. 1.

For some, that might be a lot to digest, and it would have been understandable if Swiatek took time to adjust to his new position at the top. But she didn’t, and instead dug deep and went on to win, sweeping her next tournaments in Stuttgart, Rome and Paris.

Was it hard to stay motivated throughout that dominant streak?

“I only played a small tournament in Stuttgart, and you know what the price is there, so I guess it wasn’t that hard to get motivated,” she added, referring to the Porsche she won by winning the title in the German City.

“I’m that kind of person that I always honestly want to win and I’m not going to let go and I’m not going to say, ‘oh I’m tired, so let’s accept that maybe I’m going to lose’, because I always want to win. and that I will always do anything to win. So it just happened.

This mentality certainly explains a lot.

She forged her own path

Even though she won her first Grand Slam at the age of 19, Swiatek didn’t spend her teenage years believing that she could actually achieve all that she has achieved in the past two years.

After beating 18-year-old Gauff in Paris last week, she highlighted how different her journey had been to that of the young American and noted how Gauff’s career had evolved from hers when she was his age.

Of the French Open runner-up, who this week sits No. 13 in the world for her career, Swiatek said: “I feel like she does everything faster than most players and I’m pretty much I’m sure she’s going to get here one day and win a Grand Slam, because I feel like she was brought up for this. I hope she continues like this.”

So, was Swiatek raised to do this too?

“I don’t think so. It’s difficult. I don’t think so because my background from the beginning is what my dad thought was the best; and he made very good choices and sometimes very bad choices, but it didn’t Wasn’t like I had 10 people around me telling us how to handle everything and what to do.

“We had to choose our own path and we were certainly very lucky that he made good decisions and I had good coaches at the start; because honestly we had no system that could help us,” she added.

She never thought she’d reach the top

Swiatek’s vision for his own career at 18 was to try to make more money through sports and to be as professional as possible.

She said: “For sure I wanted to make more money. I was quite disappointed because I always felt I could do better.

“I was raised to be maybe professional and always have that kind of need to improve, which sometimes isn’t helpful because when you’re a perfectionist it can push you down.

“But basically it was quite difficult for me to think that I’m going to be world number one because I think logically, when you take my country; how many people have succeeded (in tennis)? It was only Agnieszka (Radwanska) basically So the likelihood of me actually becoming a tennis superstar was pretty low.

“I love math and my brain usually thinks about probability so I thought maybe it wasn’t a sure thing and it would be hard to get there. I always had a plan B, even when I was 18. I was still going to high school and I was really focused on that. I felt like I was working two jobs at once and even in 2020 I still had the feeling like I needed a plan B if tennis didn’t work out. I never felt like I was raised to do that,” she added.

Swiatek ended 2020 as a Grand Slam champion.

She wishes Ash was still there

When three-time major champion Barty announced her sudden retirement in March, Swiatek cried for several hours, feeling confused and unsure of what it all meant.

Three months later, Swiatek has taken her own game to incredible heights and admits she wishes Barty was still around so she could face her in her current form.

“I was thinking about it the other day. I wish I was in better shape than when I played against her and just had more variety and more abilities and won against Ash; that would have been great.

His next big goal?

When Swiatek won her first Roland Garros in 2020, she stood on center court to deliver her victory speech and said she hoped to one day show there can be consistency at the top of the circuit feminine.

The depth of the field has led to much turbulence at the WTA’s top tier in recent years, but Barty managed to hold onto the No. 1 ranking for 121 weeks before retiring, and Swiatek hasn’t lost a match since. that the Australian handed over to her. .

With that goal of bringing consistency to the women’s game already scratched from their roster, what was Swiatek’s next big goal?

She said: “I don’t know, I’m not going to lie, it’s not like I have everything planned and every goal ready. I always wanted to win every Grand Slam, maybe I will. stick to that.

“But I just want to take it tournament by tournament and we’ll see. I have my goals off the court, like trying to make tennis more popular in Poland and maybe providing facilities for young players. I know better what I want to do than what appears on Wikipedia after typing my name. But for sure winning all four Grand Slams would be good.”

With the stable mindset she has adopted so far, it’s fair to assume that Swiatek will achieve her goals both on and off the pitch.

Master the weed

Despite being a former junior Wimbledon champion, Swiatek admits she has yet to unlock her full potential on the surface. She has only played the women’s event at the All England Club twice, losing in the first round in 2019 and reaching the fourth round last year.

Her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski had great success with his former player Radwanska at Wimbledon (he guided her to the final in 2012 and the semi-finals in 2013 and 2015) and Swiatek thinks he can help her understand the grass in due time.

“My only thought (heading to Wimbledon) is that I want to prepare and learn how to play better on grass and that’s the only thing I’m going to focus on.

“For sure Wimbledon is special but for me the most important thing is to put in a good performance and I still haven’t reached the feeling of comfort on the grass so that’s going to be my only focus.

“I don’t want to think about other things because that comes first and with good results and good performances things will come,” she added.