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Wimbledon: Will Iga Swiatek adapt her winning ways to grass?

  • Matt Trollope

Iga Swiatek was the prohibitive favourite to win Roland Garros – and she did just that.

Although this might not be the case at Wimbledon, the dominant world No.1 nevertheless carries significant winning momentum into next fortnight’s Championships.

Swiatek is unbeaten in 35 matches; a first-round win would see her secure the record for the longest WTA winning streak this century.

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She was a Wimbledon junior champion in 2018, and last year advanced to the fourth round of the women’s singles.

Yet despite these achievements, she has only ever played 12 professional matches on grass.

Former Australian pro Nicole Pratt acknowledged Swiatek’s lack of experience on the surface, but felt a seventh consecutive tournament title was not beyond the Polish superstar.

“A winning habit is strong,” Pratt said. 

“When you get into those key moments, there is that belief you can get across the line.

“And not only get across the line, but once Iga's had a lead, she's just dominated. We've been talking about the 6-0 sets that she's consistently had. 

“The surface will challenge her mentality… The bounce is not always perfect, or you might be playing against a very aggressive server or baseliner and there are going to be times where you feel like you're completely out of control of the point, because the speed at which it comes off (the court).

“So I'm really curious to see how Iga responds emotionally to that.”

Title threats

The women’s tour is brimming with aggressive players who present exactly the danger Pratt identifies.

Another former Australian pro, Alicia Molik, said there were several who could pose threats to Swiatek’s winning ways.

“Someone who could get to quarters or semis could be like a Camila Giorgi, who can play lights-out tennis. And on grass, she can play where you can't touch the ball,” said Molik, a former world No.8 who reached two Wimbledon mixed doubles finals.

“I think Garbine Muguruza always plays pretty well on grass; she’s a good returner and has gotten a lot better at moving forward. Ons Jabeur could surprise, because she had a disappointing French campaign and she's just so dangerous. 

“I think a player that also might do really well is Amanda Anisimova; she was playing pretty well during the French, but I really like her game on grass, too.”

Iga Swiatek in action at Wimbledon in 2021, where Ons Jabeur ultimately stopped her in the last 16. (Getty Images)

Pratt pointed to other Wimbledon title chances such as Karolina Pliskova – last year’s runner-up to Ash Barty – and Coco Gauff, who fell to Swiatek in the recent Roland Garros final and who has never lost before the second week at Wimbledon.

“It is open. It doesn't matter what your ranking is, if your game is somewhat conducive to grass, you've got the right mentality, you move well, and you make the most of your strengths, well, why not?” Pratt says.

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Better known for success on clay and hard courts, Swiatek still has many elements within her game – an effective slice serve, aggressive mindset, compact backhand and the ability to get extremely low to play shots – that should translate well to Wimbledon’s lawns.

Pratt also highlighted her creativity, and athleticism when digging out low balls on the stretch – including with a sliced forehand, an effective defensive weapon on grass.

“Where she could come unstuck is that she has quite an extreme grip on her forehand side. And if the ball's fast and low, she's gonna struggle on that side,” Pratt said. 

“A western grip is more conducive to balls bouncing higher. She likes time, and grass will not afford her that.”

Molik noted Swiatek’s movement – normally such an asset, but perhaps a less natural fit for grass.

“Movement patterns are going to have to differ greatly, which might then impact her speed around the court,” Molik warned.

“When she’s pushed wide on clay or hard court, she slides. On grass, you have to decelerate, with smaller steps and footwork. I think having not played a match in the lead-in is probably going to make it difficult for her.”

History beckons?

Swiatek has not competed since overwhelming Gauff in that Roland Garros final three weeks ago.

When she resumes, she will attempt to become the first woman to complete the Channel Slam – Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back – since Serena Williams seven years ago.

If successful she would become only the seventh women in the Open Era to do so, joining an exclusive group comprising Williams, Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

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“You win Wimbledon, you are in a different stratosphere to the rest of the players,” Pratt said. 

“At the end of the day, she could quite easily have accumulated the French Open and Wimbledon, and then the next thing we'll be talking about is: can she win the US Open? 

“Within months, the elevation of her status within tennis is increasing and increasing. For a 21-year-old, the next thing we'll be talking about is: can she be as great as Serena Williams?”

Molik concurred, saying Swiatek would “go down in history” and elevate herself to a whole new level with a Wimbledon triumph.

And despite entering the event with a target on her back and an unbeaten streak that continues to grow, Swiatek may play relaxed and free of pressure – a scary prospect for the field.

“She’s admitted it's not her favourite surface. I think she wants to do really well, but I don't think she'd be expecting to win, to be honest,” Molik said. 

“Isn't that a strange thing to say, when she's had that many matches under her belt, she's won that many titles?

“You can't possibly go on that big a winning streak, emotionally, physically, (with) the expectation, and continue to play. It's a really smart move, to be fresh at a Grand Slam. It's pretty brave too. 

“There's no points, she holds her ranking, she's not under threat.

“I think the pressure's completely off.”