London | Reflecting on Iga Swiatek, the World No 1

World No 1 Iga Swiatek has been taking a short break after Paris, preparing herself for Wimbledon and resting her troublesome shoulder.

I don’t always like to talk and think about tennis. Sometimes when I’m on tour, I just need to work for two hours and then completely disconnect from tennis. Iga Świątek

“Due to a recurring pain that I have felt in my shoulder for days, unfortunately I have to inform you of the forfeit from the German tournament,” Swiatek tweeted on her withdrawal from Berlin this week. “I’m sorry I can’t play there.

“I will focus on recovery and rest, with the aim of being ready for Wimbledon.”

With her current run of 35 consecutive winning matches, the Pole will be hoping to extend this on her least favourable surface, the grass at Wimbledon.

“When it starts, I will concentrate only on overcoming the first few games,” she has said. “I’m not going to think about the winning streak, it doesn’t help me.

“Now I have more time for myself and I want to rest as much as possible. I don’t want to force myself to be motivated, I want to relax and not think about competition.

“My head has had enough, because I have been thinking about the competition so many days that now I have to stop for a while.”

A champion of Ukraine, Swiatek takes every opportunity to underscore her support for the war-torn country that neighbours her own of Poland.

Her latest endeavour is a challenge match with former Polish No 1 Agnieszka Radwanska that will take place in Krakow on 23 June, according to Eurosport.

While details had yet to be confirmed, further news on the event is expected over the coming days.

Radwanska, who made the final at Wimbledon as well as two semi-finals at the Australian Open, retired in 2018 after reaching a career high of No 2 in the world.

The idea has come from the United 24 foundation, whose ambassadors are Elina Svitolina and footballer Andriy Shevchenko.

Swiatek’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people was underscored during her award ceremony speech at the Roland Garros, in which she urged them to ‘stay strong’, while she continues to wear a ribbon with the Ukrainian national colours on her hat for all her matches as a reminder of the conflict there.

Iga Swiatek's on-court skills have taken her to a streak of 35 consecutive match wins this year, and the undisputed World No 1 spot

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

While the 21-year old is the clear favourite to win the title at Wimbledon, for her The Championships are more about learning how to play on grass, and she now has the man who helped Radwanska to the final on her team, Polish coach Tomasz Witkorowski, whom she brought on board in December 2021 with stunning subsequent results.

Wiktorowski oversaw Radwanska’s run to the 2012 final, as well as the semi-finals in 2013 and 2015, and led the Polish national team at the Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) from 2009 to 2015.

He has the experience that is particularly helpful to Swiatek, since she is relatively new on tour herself.

“I don’t always like to talk and think about tennis,” Iga Swiatek commented on working with her new coach earlier in the year. “Sometimes when I’m on tour, I just need to work for two hours and then completely disconnect from tennis.

“It’s great that he understands that. He’s great with ideas like going to the movies or the beach. It’s hard to fit them into the schedule sometimes, but he helps a lot with that.”

Swiatek began her partnership with her former coach Piotr Sierzputowski in 2016, and the arrangement brought her 7 titles on the ITF Circuit from 2016 to 2018 while, in 2019, she made her debut in the top 100 WTA rankings and reached her first final at WTA level in Lugano, where she lost to Polona Hercog.

It was under Sierzputowski’s guidance that Swiatek won her first title at Roland Garros in 2020, where she defeated American Sofia Kenin in two sets in the final, prompting the WTA to name him Coach of the Year Award at the end of the year.

The title in Adelaide, a WTA 500 event, followed and, in May 2021, the young Pole proved her talent again by winning the WTA Premier tournament in Rome, double-bagelling Karolina Pliskova, 6-0 6-0.

Team Swiatek - Daria Abramowicz (L), Maciej Ryszczuk and Tomasz Witkorowski (r) - celebrated their first tournament win with Iga Swiatek at the Adelaide International WTA 500 after the Pole beat Belinda Bencic in the final

© Mark Brake/Getty Images

Swiatek felt the need for a change ahead of the 2022 season, though, writing on Instagram: “I’ve started my pre-season, but today I would like to tell you something significant. After more than 5 years I’ve decided to finish my cooperation with my coach Piotr Sierzputowski.

“This change is really challenging for me and this decision wasn’t easy, either… As tennis players we meet on our path a lot of people who contribute great value into our work and, often, into our life too, because we spend almost the whole year on tour together.

“I found out that, sometimes, in our professional life we need changes to develop more, evolve and meet other people with whom we’re going to create a cooperation for the next stages of our development.

“I would like to thank you, Coach, for everything that you did for me. We gave each other so much and I hope that we’ll continue to grow and develop with this experience we’ve gained together.

“I owe you a lot and truly appreciate the time we’ve spent together. All those years enabled us to be in the place that we are now.

“I suppose you may have questions about what’s next. I have everything I need to be able to work, and I would like to focus on my pre-season without any outside pressure. I hope you’ll understand it.”

It was the perfect example of the empathy and dedication that this unique athlete possesses.

Iga Swiatek, sporting Ukrainian coloured ribbons on her hat, won her second Roland Garros title this year

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Shortly after the split, Swiatek announced Wiktorowski as her new coach and hiring him turned to be a great move as the Polish coach knew exactly what Swiatek needed in order to lift her game to another level.

Wiktorowski felt Swiatek was a pretty complete player and he wanted Swiatek to believe that her opponents would have to adapt to her.

“We sat down with Daria Abramowicz [psychologist] and Maciej Ryszczuk [physical preparation coach] and agreed that Iga already plays in such a way, she is so physically and technically-tactically prepared, that it would be a mistake to leave her in the belief that she has to adapt to her opponents.

“They must adapt to her, to what she presents, what she already knows and what she will still be able to do,” Wiktorowski added.

Since switching to Witkorowski, Swiatek has won the titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and Paris, but it has not all been down to his guidance, but also to that of Abramowicz, a psychologist who specialises in sports and performance, who travels with the team.

A physical education and sports academy graduate, Abramowicz, who is also a specialist in clinical psychology, is in her mid-thirties, and has vast experience in sports, including sailing competitively for 12 years and then coaching for more than 10 years, working with the Polish national cycling and swimming teams, and even chess players, among others.

She describes her approach as holistic, and credits her charge with fully committing to the effort.

“Iga is willing to put in the work,” Abramowicz said after Swiatek’s win in Paris. “She is aware of the importance of psychology – not just mental training, but of sports psychology in general, as a big piece of the puzzle in order to succeed at top level in tennis.

“Even on her worst day, she is open-minded and able to process things. She is always ready to learn, and I found some ways that work well for her: to feed her with knowledge in regards to psychology.

“When you listen to her interviews, you can probably hear a lot of my thoughts or my knowledge that I am passing on to her. It makes me proud, obviously. That is the main trait: Iga’s urge to broaden her horizons and improve her knowledge.”

The World No 1 now heads into Wimbledon as the heavy favourite following her recent dominance on the WTA Tour since the departure of Ash Barty in March, which has seen her win 35 matches in a row, the joint-longest streak this century and, impressively, 29 of those wins were achieved in straight sets.

Swiatek has great admiration for Barty and disclosed in a column for BBC Sport that she spoken to the Aussie after her retirement.

“Since becoming the world number one, I haven’t felt the need to speak to more experienced players about how to deal with the added responsibilities,” she said. “For now, I feel I have been doing fine, but if I have some problems I would reach out to some players.

“I have the feeling I could get support from some of the players but, on the other hand, it is also tough asking your competitors that sort of thing.

“Ashleigh Barty, who I replaced as world number one when she retired in March, is the one who would honestly say what she feels, what she thinks and how she dealt with those things.

“Ash is also perfect to give advice because she isn’t my competitor any more, of course! She has always been really helpful and really supportive.

“I respect her for how much class she has, and I hope to carry myself as the world number one in the same way as she did.”

Ash Barty won Wimbledon last year and retired from pro tennis in March as the incumbent World No 1, and Iga Swiatek has taken over as a worthy successor

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

She has since proven herself worthy of Barty’s mantle in the manner with which she conducts herself both on and off the court and they way she applies herself to the problems she faces, be it supporting Ukraine, extending her run or learning the ropes on Wimbledon grass.

“We still have a lot of work to do because we are not anchoring on this series of victories,” Wiktorowski says, supportively. “Besides, we know the story – Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Serena, every series ends at some point.

“Iga has enough assets to win on grass as well. Adapting to the conditions is a necessity, but not to rivals!

“In every new place, you have to be able to accept what you have no control over and adapt.”

Unlike Barty, though, Swiatek has yet to make her mark at Wimbledon after losing in the first round in 2019, and the 4th round last year to Ons Jabeur, but she is no stranger to the grass as she won the junior girls title there 4 years ago when she defeated Emma Raducanu en route to the title.

“My only thought [heading into Wimbledon] is I want to get ready, and learn how to play on grass better, and this is the only thing I’m going to be focusing on,” the 21-year-old said. “For sure, Wimbledon is special but, for me, the most important thing is to bring a good performance, and I still haven’t reached the comfortable feeling on grass, so that’s going to be my only goal.

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

“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’m going to stick to that.

“But I just want to take everything tournament by tournament and we’re going to see.

“I have my goals off court, like trying to get tennis more popular in Poland and, maybe, providing some facilities for younger players.

“I know better what I want to do more than what comes up on Wikipedia after typing my name. But for sure winning all four Grand Slams would be nice.”

Just watch this space as Swiatek bids to become the first female player to win both the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season since Serena Williams in 2015.



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