In the first three months of 2022, Iga Swiatek has already won 26 matches – a number approaching her entire 2021 tally of 36 match wins.
It is a stat highlighting her dominance so far this year; Swiatek at the weekend captured the Miami Open title to extend her winning streak to 17 matches.
This week the Polish star officially took over the No.1 ranking from the recently-retired Ash Barty. But this was hardly a case of the top ranking simply falling into her lap; Swiatek assumed the mantle in the most resounding way possible, completing the rare Sunshine Double – Indian Wells and Miami titles back-to-back – to leave nobody in doubt she is currently the WTA’s standard-bearer.
Former world No.8 Alicia Molik followed Swiatek’s progress throughout the US spring hard-court season and noticed a distinct change in the 20-year-old’s mentality – and her level that followed.
Whereas Molik felt Swiatek was playing with “the weight of the world on her shoulders” after capturing her first major title in 2020 at Roland Garros, the Australian was watching a player transformed.
“Something obviously turned mentally (after AO 2022). Because she's just looked so much more confident on the court,” Molik told ausopen.com.
“She doesn't look like she beats herself down or is too hard on herself, and I feel like she was in January. I feel like she looked not so much confused, but really stressed about her tennis.
“Maybe she's just come through the fog of the feelings from everyone expecting so much, and her probably expecting more of herself.
“It's amazing (winning the Sunshine Double); it's like two Grand Slams back-to-back. Everyone's there, everyone plays Indian Wells and Miami. So it's even more of a mean feat, because of the length of time those tournaments are spread out.”
Minutes after flattening Naomi Osaka 6-4 6-0 in the Miami final, Swiatek reflected on that very achievement – and the top ranking that followed.
“These weeks were so intense, I didn't really know if I'm going to be able to keep up with the streak that I have,” she told Andrew Krasny in a courtside interview.
“It's amazing for me that I could show mental toughness, because my whole life I thought I can do more, and sometimes I was losing and I didn't even know why. And right now, this season, I feel like everything clicked.
“(Before this tournament) I didn't really know if actually deserve it (No.1). Right now maybe I'm gonna believe it a little bit more. Winning in such a way, it's gonna give me huge confidence, but also kind of trust in myself that I can keep going, no matter if I'm tired, no matter if something is off.
“I can just play, and dominate.”
Krasny then informed her it was time to collect her trophy, and asked if she was ready.
"Yeah, I'm ready,” Swiatek replied. “I was born to do that."
Barty’s sudden retirement has left an inevitable void at the top of the game; she was the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and more than 2,000 points clear of No.2 Swiatek in the WTA rankings.
But according to Molik, Swiatek is well-positioned to reign consistently at the top, like Barty had done since 2019.
Molik believes Swiatek has made in-roads on her serve – considered one of the more attackable areas of her game – since January and possesses supreme court movement, speed, balance and fitness.
“I love her game. I love how she's able to turn defence into offence and her energy and exuberance on the court,” Molik said.
“I think it’s gonna be tough for her, but you look at the other players at the top – they're not always in great form every week. It is really so open. (I think this will work for Swiatek) because she's just relatively consistent with her level. Even on a bad day, she's still good.
“Her body's pretty resilient; she hasn't broken down. She's probably at that right age too where her body bounces back really well after tough, long battles.
“With her semifinal result in Australia, and winning those three (WTA 1000) events, she’s got to be feeling pretty good for the next couple of months. I've always maintained that when you bank up a lot of matches in the first three months of the year, that holds you in good stead until November.
“I think leading into clay, her favourite surface, she can pick and choose the events she wants to play.
“So her preparation can be, you'd like to think, pretty perfect as well – playing enough, without overplaying.”
When Swiatek does return to the court – she has entered the WTA clay-court event in Stuttgart – she will have enjoyed two weeks away from competition to refresh.
With more match wins will be in her sights when she resumes on her favourite surface, her streak could continue.