AO Spotlight: Iga Swiatek

  • Matt Trollope

In an era of surprise women’s Grand Slam champions, few were more unexpected than Iga Swiatek.

The Polish teenager stormed to the 2020 Roland Garros title as world No.54, becoming the tournament’s lowest-ranked winner in WTA rankings history.

On court

Swiatek had never been beyond the fourth round at a Slam, nor been ranked higher than 48th, before breaking through for her first major title. 

Her power, court-craft and unusually heavy topspin were perfectly suited to the clay at Roland Garros, where she ultimately overpowered Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin after thumping No.1 seed Simona Halep three rounds earlier.

Her appearance in the last 16 in Paris in 2019 and at AO 2020, plus her Wimbledon 2018 junior title, demonstrated her immense potential. Yet she had only previously reached one WTA final at a minor tournament in Lugano, Switzerland in 2019.

Iga Swiatek defeated No.19 seed Donna Vekic at AO 2020 to reach the fourth round, where she came close to toppling 28th seed Anett Kontaveit before falling 7-5 in the third set. (Getty Images)

What most of the world – beyond tennis nerds and insiders – witnessed on centre stage for the first time was a positively engaged, impressively athletic player with a complete game, which utterly overwhelmed all opposition.

She’s now inside the top 20.

Notable stat

Swiatek became the first women since Justine Henin 13 years earlier to triumph at Roland Garros without losing a set. Incredibly, she dropped just 28 games throughout her seven match wins – the least since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Off court

Swiatek’s athletic prowess no doubt comes from her father, an Olympic rower who represented Poland at the 1988 Seoul Games.

But the 19-year-old, with university aspirations, is not solely motivated by sporting achievement.

She told rolandgarros.com last month she considered the next two seasons as “gap years” to see where her tennis achievements took her.

“It's going to be hard to make a decision to go back to studying because I feel like really I can achieve big things,” she said. “But … a lot can change during few years. Maybe I'm going to be, like, hungry for knowledge.”

A rock music fan who loves AC/DC and Pink Floyd, Swiatek pumped herself up before Roland Garros matches by listening to Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle”.

X-factor

Her love of vintage rock music is just one of many things separating Swiatek from her contemporaries. 

Strikingly mature for her age, Swiatek made the savvy decision to work with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz during her junior career. 

Curious by nature and an avid reader, she told The Telegraph that since recently returning to Warsaw, she was “(using) the time to learn something new about politics and social issues. I am just trying to find out more about what’s going on in Europe”.

Being so well-rounded with multiple interests and avenues seems to translate to less pressure on court.

She said …

On prioritising a psychologist: “I had this belief that it's like a big part of the game. But my parents … weren't as open to that as I was. Actually, I don't know where that (belief) came from.”

On her next goal: “I think the biggest change for me is to be consistent. I think this is what women's tennis is struggling with. That's why we have so many new Grand Slam winners because we are not as consistent as Rafa, Roger, and Novak.”

Experts are saying …

“The way she’s playing right now it’s hard to imagine she won’t win half a dozen majors. It’s incredible.”
- John McEnroe, commentating for NBC during the Roland Garros final.

“I think she's super talented. She has a beautiful game, very smart. She has unique movement of, like, sliding and getting into that position. She can mix up her serve. I was really pleased with her attitude on the court, trying to find solutions, and very positive. I'm sure we'll see a lot more of her.”
- Victoria Azarenka, after beating Swiatek in the third round of the 2020 US Open.