IIn the final week of last season, the Iga Swiatek Award for a Strong Year was a place among the best in the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. After her successes winning the French Open in late 2020 and the adjustments she made as her entire world changed hands, Swiatek has enjoyed a good full season as a champ. But in Mexico she struggled hard. Swiatek lost her first two matches, quickly exiting the event in the group stages.
At the time, she felt that the improvements needed for her to drive the hard court as she did with the mud would take some time. Instead, about a year later, I’m a different player.
Swiatek started the season with an unexpected run to the Australian Open semi-finals and has now won four titles on hard courts this year alone: three WTA 1000 titles, Her first US Open title on Saturday.
Her accomplishments are especially notable when comparing the title she won in New York on Saturday to her first title two years ago. In October 2020, Swiatek broke into the limelight by playing at her devastating best for two weeks of the fall of the French Open, racking up an absurdly high level from start to finish. She only lost 28 games en route to the title – not a single set.
But while that tournament showed the greatness it was capable of when conditions were right and confidence was high, it said little about the essential qualities required to win the series. Those weeks of playing your best tennis, when everything is flowing, are rare; Great heroes are good at winning when they’re not at their best. Her time in New York this year was a clear example of the latter.
The lighter balls used in the tournament for women’s matches were a dominant theme destined for the US Open, thanks to Swiatek’s complaints about them. She said that while she feels perfect on the mud, she still lacks complete confidence in herself at the US Open.
Her success, then, depends on accepting that she would make more mistakes, and that on faster surfaces she had to take more risks earlier than this point. She knew that doubts would continue to haunt her on this surface and she didn’t have much to do about it.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t trust myself yet,” she said. “I feel like I definitely trust myself on clay, and maybe also on other surfaces. Here I’m just trying to accept that sometimes I just won’t trust myself.”
Swiatek hasn’t always played well in New York, but she has always adapted. She struggled hard in her fourth-round match until midway through the second set, trailing by a set and breaking to Jules Niemeyer, but she overcame mistakes at the crucial moments and won.
Finding herself 4-2 behind Aryna Sabalenka in the third set of the semi-finals, Swiatek bumped into a single non-compulsive foul for the remainder of the match.
But her game is also technically superior. The pressure that her defensive and offensive ability puts on her opponent is obvious. She roams the field, slips shots in an open position, and has an athletic and defensive style. Not only does she defend with depth and rotation, she constantly forces her opponents to take greater risks. If they don’t, she will strangle them with her strikes on the ground, which happen to be greater than those faced by almost any other opponent.
Despite the season of dominance, the most ominous insights for Swiatek’s rivals is that she can still improve. She can improve her serve, both by getting more accurate with her first serve to produce free points and by fortifying her second. Swiatek can also become more efficient on the network.
Another big change in her game is how she understood the different options available to her, and how each offers a different solution.
Since hiring her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, in the off-season, tournaments have come quickly. They haven’t yet had time to spend a long training period working on her game without the looming competition pressures. The more she continued to expand her skill set, the more difficult it would be to defeat her.
“Winning the US Open is different than winning a slam title in Europe or Australia because I don’t know how the popularity will change, if it will change,” she said after Saturday’s win. “For now, I will be observing and learning.”
Swiatek has many qualities that make her an absorbing personality off the court. She is honest, truthful, and tirelessly lovable. She is also introverted and introverted. She keeps her hat low in public and her profile lower.
But while it might not grab attention right away, winning major slams and dominating for a long time is the only publicity you need. At the age of 21, Swiatek is already a three-time Grand Slam champion. It’s in the closing months of a season that only Serena Williams has excelled for the past 15 years. The tour will have to keep up or risk being left behind – and the rest of the world will soon learn its name.