Analysis: Iga Swiatek’s rapid rise to No. 1 not mind-blowing
When new No. 1 Iga Swiatek’s latest match ended with another victory, her 17th in a row, she jogged over to greet her team in a corner of the Miami Open stadium. She shook her head, put her hands near her temples and made the universal gesture for “mind blown.”
Yes, this run has been impressive: Swiatek is 26-3 overall in 2022 and the first woman to win the first three WTA 1000 events of a season. Also impressive: The 2020 French Open champion’s rapid ascension to the top of the rankings, officially replacing the recently retired Ash Barty there on Monday.
What none of it has been, to anyone paying attention, is surprising — even if Swiatek says the whirlwind of the past several weeks caught her a bit off guard.
“Sometimes, I think it’s a bit too much, you know?” the 20-year-old from Poland said in a video interview with The Associated Press.
Asked what she meant by that, Swiatek — whose last name is pronounced shvee-ON-tek — explained: “I didn’t have much time to rest and to reflect on what led to this success or how this happened, basically, because it was all happening really fast.”
That’s certainly true.
Consider where she was 18 months ago.
Still a teenager, ranked 54th, without a tour-level trophy to her name, she parlayed a topspin-heavy forehand, a willingness to shift shot speeds, get-to-every-ball court coverage, strong returning and in-match smarts into a Grand Slam championship in Paris in October 2020.
Those skills are apparent to this day, along with such improvements as the kick serve that bothered Naomi Osaka — a four-time major champion and former No. 1 herself — in the Miami final.
Instead of the sort of step back that often can accompany a Grand Slam breakthrough, particularly one by someone so young, Swiatek kept her feet on the ground and her head in the game, making it to at least the fourth round at each of the subsequent five majors, including a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open in January.
And her ranking kept moving up, to No. 17 by the end of 2020, No. 4 to close 2021 and No. 2 thanks to her victory at Indian Wells, California, last month.
“It’s been really cool to watch her grow,” Osaka said. “For me, I think the most impressive thing is being able to string together these two (tournament) wins in a row.
While the last step up was hastened along by Barty’s departure from the game — and decision to drop out of the rankings rather than remain at No. 1 as long as her points would allow — it was clearly a natural progression for Swiatek.
“Just watching your journey is really incredible,” Osaka told Swiatek during the trophy ceremony Saturday, “and I hope you continue having fun.”
After a bit of down time in Florida, Swiatek said, she will head home to Warsaw, where she is sure to be feted as the first Polish tennis player — female or male — to get to No. 1.
And then it’ll be on to preparing for, and playing on, the clay-court circuit, leading up to Roland Garros, where play begins May 22.
First things first, though.
Swiatek is looking forward to a chance to decompress and to comprehend all that has happened lately. For one thing, while she knew the talent and ability were there, she could not know for sure what sort of effect the mental pressure and physical exhaustion of competing so much in such a short amount of time would have.
“Truth be told, I know what kind of tennis I can play. And (in) practices, I was showing a similar level. But I thought that it’s going to be possible for me to play like that in matches maybe in a few years,” Swiatek said. “So it is a little bit mind-blowing, because I felt like everything clicked this season. And I wasn’t expecting to be that consistent.”
Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s main tennis writer since 2002. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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