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Swiatek follows father's footsteps 38 years later

  • Dan Imhoff

As the daughter of a Polish Olympic rower, Iga Swiatek’s athletic pedigree is a handy leg up in her career.

Talent alone, though, was no guarantee the now 18-year-old would follow in dad Tomasz Swiatek’s footsteps.

Swiatek Sr competed in the men’s quadruple sculls event at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, but preferred his daughters took up an individual discipline if they were to pursue a sport.

Swimming was her initial attempt but that was over before it began.

Now, 38 years after realising his Olympic dream, Swiatek Sr’s daughter is on the cusp of becoming a Polish Olympian, only without an oar in hand.

Iga Swiatek during AO2020

“I was scared of water so tennis was much better for me,” Swiatek told after reaching the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the first time.

“Representing Poland was always something amazing for me, even in junior tournaments. It was just something different and well it’s hard to say because I’ve never been to an Olympics but I’ve always heard the stories.

“I just want to experience it on my own. For sure it’s going to be amazing.”

It is a busy schedule for the 18-year-old in just her second Australian Open.

After accounting for 19th-seeded Croatian Donna Vekic in the third round, Swiatek returned to court later in the afternoon to win a first-round mixed doubles match with fellow Pole, Lukasz Kubot.

Was this a budding partnership to boost Tokyo 2020 Olympic selection hopes?

“Um, yeah maybe,” she laughed. 

“I just didn’t play a match in like five months and played two in a row. I was super tired [after mixed doubles] but Lukasz is a great partner so it wasn’t that hard.”

Contesting her first event since foot surgery curtailed her season after last year’s US Open, Swiatek set a showdown with Estonian Anett Kontaveit for a place in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Her defeat of Vekic marked the second time in her past four majors she had reached the fourth round.

MORE: AO2020 women’s draw

That first taste of second week action came on the red clay in Paris last year. There, defending champion Simona Halep dealt a dose of reality as she conceded just one game.

“I guess I’m like more calm right now, that’s my second time in fourth round,” Swiatek said.

“I did so much work so I think I earned it. French Open I think I was more surprised.”

The lopsided defeat to Halep on Court Philippe Chatrier was not a blow to the teenager’s confidence, merely an impetus to improve.

“It didn’t change me at all. I still had my priorities in life,” Swiatek said of her run at Roland Garros.

“The only thing that changed was my experience. Even the match with Simona that only lasted about 45 minutes, it was a huge lesson for me so the only thing that changed was my knowledge.”

It is a mature outlook, which belies Swiatek’s youth – so too her taste in music.

While her friends may be more inclined to have the latest pop singles on high rotation, the Pole’s playlist delves decades back, with Pearl Jam her current pump-up choice.

“I’m just listening to rock to get energy before matches so Pearl Jam, AC/DC, but outside of tournaments I usually listen to ’80s pop or ’70s, even ’60s,” she said.

“I guess I like everything except rap … I don’t know how that happened. Every person that I’ve met has brought something to my life and usually it was music so maybe that’s why I listen to everything.”

In her first full season on tour in 2019, the teenager surged more than 100 places to finish ranked just outside the top 60.

It came after signing off her junior career winning the girls’ singles at Wimbledon, 13 years after her idol, the now retired Agnieszka Radwanska.

“She’s a big inspiration,” Swiatek told after qualifying for her maiden major at Melbourne Park last year. 

“She’s a perfect example showing the young players from Poland that we can do it so that’s motivating me.

“But everyone asks if I’m the next Aga. She made such great results in her whole career that I still have to wait like 10 years to be the same.”

Fast-track a year and she may not need to wait that long.

“I guess I just feel like I really belong here,” Swiatek said. 

“First year on tour I wasn’t so confident. Right now I feel that I can do it and have everything I need to play against the best players. If I keep working hard, who knows what happens?”