It’s a bit like Act II of Iga Swiatek’s career starting in the spring of 2022. The young Polish (22 in May), who was revealed to the general public in the autumn of 2020 by her surprising title at Roland-Garros, has since become number one worldwide. This week in Stuttgart she will participate for the first time in a tournament with this status of patroness of the WTA ranking.
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At the beginning of March you were number 4 in the world. A month later you are in power. Everything has moved very quickly for you in the past few weeks, between your hat-trick in the WTA 1000 and Ashleigh Barty’s retirement. Do you still have to pinch yourself to realize you’re the new #1?
Iga SWIATEK: In the beginning, yes, I kind of felt that way. There was a surreal side to it that was a bit beyond me. But the advantage is that it happened at the start of the Miami tournament. I had to stay focused on my tennis and the next match, so that helped me stay the same player I was before I became the number one in the world. There were a lot of emotions, of course, but at the end of the tournament I had to push them back to stay focused and keep playing well.
Have you received many congratulations? Has your idol Rafael Nadal emerged?
IS: I got a lot of messages, yes. For three days my phone was in birthday mode (smiles) with messages everywhere. Many people congratulated me. Ash (Ashleigh Barty, Ed), for example. She was one of the first to text me. Rafa also sent me a message. Then lots of players on the field in Miami, plus everyone on Instagram and Twitter. I can’t even remember everyone!
At least you’ve confirmed your love for the finale. You had lost your very first on the track before you won the next six. How do you explain this conversion rate?
IS: I’m just trying to approach a final like any other game. I have often noticed that for most players the level in the final is a bit lower because of the nervousness. So I work a lot on the mental side to be able to play the same tennis as the entire tournament. But you know, in Indian Wells I was very nervous. I couldn’t even tell you why. Perhaps because it is the largest tournament in the world after the Grand Slams. I didn’t make the same mistake in Miami. I was much more relaxed. Avoiding stress is key in the endgame.
Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka after the Miami tournament final.
You have a good chance of approaching Roland-Garros as the number one in the world. Do you see it as an opportunity or a form of weight?
IS: I’m always happy to play at Roland-Garros. It has always been my favorite tournament. Coming in as number one is fun. But I’d love to get there, even if I wasn’t number one. It’s no extra pressure. Last year it was different because I was defending champion, it was a big challenge for me. I didn’t really know how I would react and handle the pressure.
Have you felt it a lot in these fourteen days?
IS: It was a little weird. I had only won one Grand Slam, but I was already the girl to beat. I’d say it was especially stressful out of court. It was the hardest, the most exhausting. It is not easy to focus only on work and not waste energy on it. Once on the field, during the games, it was fine, as always. Outside, no. But it was a good experience.
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Since your title at Roland-Garros, you’ve shown consistency in Grand Slams, but failed to make it all the way or even the final. What dominates? Satisfaction or frustration?
IS: Honestly, I’m satisfied. I knew I had to develop my game to be competitive on hard courts. This year, reaching the semi-finals at the Australian Open and winning some very complicated matches was a step forward. It was a nice result, even though we always want to go further. So I have no frustration with my Grand Slam results. Even last year in Paris it was a satisfaction to play well while defending the title. In general, I try not to set too specific goals in terms of results, rounds to be achieved. I want to do my best, but also keep having fun.
There is a lot of talk about mental health in tennis right now. You who have been working with Daria Abramowicz, a specialist in sports and performance psychology since the age of 18, what is your relationship to this problem?
IS: When I started working with Daria in 2019, my main goal was to make things better on the track. Be more focused, control my emotions. Then it switched to something else. We talk more about my personal life, how to gain confidence as a person, grow, deal with fame or the more business side of sports. I feel like we’ve worked on everything (laughs). Seriously, it’s important to have someone to talk to freely. Sharing experiences, talking about completely different things.
Iga Swiatek. (Photo credit: Tecnifibre)
Credit: from official website
Does she have an important place in your team?
IS: Daria helps me a lot, yes. It is very important to me to be able to count on my team. My coach takes care of my tennis. My physical trainer takes care of my body. But I also need someone who is there when I want and want to talk. I want to succeed as best I can, but I don’t want to lose myself. I want to have fun and I have to enjoy life on the track. So I try to stay calm.
You talked about dealing with fame. You become a real star in Poland… It is said that in your country there are Robert Lewandowski and Iga Swiatek…
IS: It’s pretty cool to be in this position with Robert. Of course I feel the expectations, and my growing popularity. People everywhere recognize me. Frankly, I like it. I want to make tennis in Poland more and more important, let children practice more and today I really have the opportunity to do that.
Does this status ever weigh on you?
IS: After my win at Roland-Garros, it was a bit complicated to manage. It’s better now. Then I travel a lot, I’m always on the track. I had to be home for four days this season. But when I go back to Poland, where I loved playing the Fed Cup last week, I can feel the enthusiasm of the people and that’s nice to see.
Iga Swiatek with the Roland-Garros Trophy 2020
Credit: Getty Images
How do you see your long-term career? More Barty, in early retirement mode, or rather Federer or Serena Williams?
IS: I think if you ask a 20-year-old they will say they have no idea. I can very well imagine myself playing tennis at the age of 30. I hope for a long career. But will my body still be in good shape? Will I always be satisfied with my results? Will the fun still be there? I think I would always need challenges anyway. But for now I have a huge desire for tennis.
What makes and will help you move forward? The titles? The reports?
IS: No, I prefer to concentrate on the day-to-day work. This is the best way for me to see things clearly. If I start thinking about records and want to be the first in this, the best in it, that’s not good for me. I don’t always want to be chasing something. So day after day, game after game. It helps me stay calm. Only if I project myself on the whole season, it becomes too much for me.
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