Tennis Player A Week ago, Iga Swiatek posted photos of her unwinding on a Miami beach to “interesting, crazy” last few weeks. “One day I’m just 100% focused on my performance during another match and the next day I’m realizing how to live 1,” she wrote.
Among the consensus among players is “to live” in the world No 1 is a lot harder than it is, which Swiatek did rather quickly and unexpectedly after the sudden retirement of Ash Barty. Recent Grand Slam champions have had multiple fresh faces, but the No 1 spot has gone pretty much unchallenged over the last couple of years. Since the first time in June 2019, the Aussie held fort for 114 consecutive weeks until stepping aside from the sport as the world No 1 last month.
If the newly-crowned Pole can match even some degree of dominance at the top, she would have done remarkably well. For, there are a bunch of challengers hovering, making the rankings game wide open as the season progresses. Swiatek is currently on 6,711 points while the others in the top five — Barbora Krejcikova, Paula Badosa, Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari —are all 4,700 and 5,000 points. All it would take is one for them to get a bit of a run, and for Swiatek to stumble, to shake up the order.
Swiatek has that first-hand experience. The 20-year-old surged from the world No 8 in mid-February to No 2 in March after winning back-to-back titles in Qatar and Indian Wells. That’s when Barty made the way for Swiatek, who capped her ascension with the Miami crown. Make no mistake, Swiatek, with a power game that looks like a lethal, is the moment to beat the player. Even more so heading into the clay swing, where she first appeared in the big league with the 2020 Roland Garros title, but has not been able to add to the count.
Consistency is the name of the women’s tennis in the game, and the youngster from Warsaw is aware of that. “Many women are struggling for consistency and that’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners,” Swiftk said in an earlier interview with ITF.
Among the top five in the chart, breathing down her neck, the Czech Republic’s Krejcikova (ranked 2nd, 4,975 points) and Spain’s Badosa (3rd, 4,885 points) have made significant jumps in the last couple of weeks, moving up two and three spots respectively. .
Krejcikova, seen last year as a doubles player, was a surprise 2021 French Open singles champion. The Czech has made two WTA singles finals since then, and enters the red dirt on her favourite leg of the season. However, she will have a Roland Garros winner as the defendant in Paris, and an encore will do some take.
Badosa was ranked 62nd in the world this time last year. The 24-year-old holds three WTA titles, in Serbia (May 2021), Indian Wells (October 2021) and Sydney (January 2022) in the last 12 months, showing the kind of form that she would be eager to carry. into the season.
And then there’s Sabalenka (ranked 4th, 4,711 points) and Sakkari (5th, 4,705), two power-packed players who knocked on the doors of the Grand Slam glory last year but lost the semi-finals twice each. The Greek Sakkari beat Swiatek in the 2021 Roland Garros quarter-final before losing to Krejcikova, while Belarus’ Sabalenka went down to the same stage as Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon. Sakkari has been the most in-form player of the late, two finals and one semi-final in her last four tournaments. Two of those defeats — The Indian Wells title clash and the Qatar Open last four — came against Swiatek.
Incidentally, except against Krejcikova (2-0), Swiatek doesn’t have a positive win-loss record against others. She is 1-1 with Badosa and Sabalenka and 2-3 against Sakkari.
Osaka too in it
Another player with the world No 1 has a 1-1 head-to-head record is Naomi Osaka. The Japanese stormed into the final in Miami and lost to Swiatek, but not before showing enough signs of her reigning mojo. With Barty’s exit a void, women’s tennis could not have been a better sight than Osaka fighting the court with a smile (an occasional tear notwithstanding).
Osaka, who was ranked No. 1 in Barty before 2019, is currently 35th. However, the fact is that she did not play a lot — and thus not win a lot — after pulling out of the last year’s Roland Garros to address mental health issues.
That’s her plan, anyway, with the summit again to reach the eventual goal. “I think by next year or by the end of this year, I would love to be in the top 10. By next year, I would love to be in the No 1,” she said in Miami.
“Oh, that’s a big statement. Erase that. Top 5, ”added the four-time Grand Slam champion. “You know what? I’m going to set that goal. Yeah, No 1. ”