The rise and rise of tennis’ No1 superstar Iga Swiatek

Monday 25 April 2022 8:33 pm

Iga Swiatek has become the world No1 amid a fiercely contested women’s tennis scene, but the Polish star is unstoppable. (Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke / Getty Images)

When your father is an Olympic rower, the sport in the future is almost as expected – if not demanded.

But even Tomasz Swiatek, a quads rower for Poland at the Seoul 1988 Olympics, couldn’t have expected his daughter, Iga, to be a tennis Grand Slam winner and world No1 before her 21st birthday.

Women’s tennis is in bloom. The last 10 Grand Slams have seen eight different winners, five of whom were first-time winners.

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Since Serena Williams’ reign of domination came to a halt back in 2017 in Australia, 13 different women have picked up one of four annual showpiece calendar events.

One of those, at the age of 19, was Swiatek. Her French Open Triumph in 2020 marked the beginning of a career that has only seen her grow and grow.

Born in 2001 as a father and an orthodontist mother of an Olympic athlete, Iga and her sister Agata were both sporting successes on a path.

But while Agata later followed her mum’s career path into dentistry, Iga pursued professional tennis.

The village of Raszyn, where Iga grew up, is occupied by fewer than 7,000 people and is a minuscule neighborhood to the capital city Warsaw, which sits just 9km away.

It was first known for having Europe’s largest aerial transmitter mast, then soap actress Monika Labendowicz, and now Swiatek, 20 – one of the most consistent tennis players on the circuit.

Breaking and Entering

She broke into the top 50 in a row after winning her first WTA event and going into the fourth round of the French Open – the Grand Slam she had won at junior level two years ago and the event on to win senior level 12 months down the line 2020.

Swiatek overcame seeded Marketa Vondrousova, who made the final one-year preseason, toppling four-time doubles before 2020 Grand Slam winner Hsieh Su-wei in straight sets.

She’d breeze past wild card No1 seed Simona Halep over a straight sets win in just three games before losing to Eugenie Bouchard.

Swiatek had arrived, and it was just the fourth round.

Tennis, more than many sports, is the draw of luck.

You know which of the top four seeds is your quarter; whether you face them is a different question.

Swiatek could have faced second, third or fourth seeds Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina or Sofia Kenin in the latter stages of the tournament but only came across American Kenin in the final after beating qualifiers Martina Trevisan and Nadia Podoroska in the quarters and semis.

Swiatek the teen sensation

Swiatek became the first teenage Grand Slam champion with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Roland Garros in Kenin.

She didn’t concede on the road to her triumph and didn’t lose more than five games in any given match at the French capital – an astonishing feat for someone so young.

“After Roland Garros, I felt my whole world had turned upside down,” she wrote this year.

“The first few months were hard-balancing my tennis work and off-court responsibilities.”

We have seen similar with Emma Raducanu since Briton won the US Open last year.

She is a young, successful athlete who has leaned into England rugby head coach Eddie Jones, including many sport outside of her enduring criticism.

“After winning a Grand Slam you may think ‘I can now be happy in my life’ but that is totally the opposite.

“I’m not aware of it,” Swiatek added.

“I expected a lot from myself and wanted to show people that I could play like that all the time. It was kind of impossible.

“So I needed some time to chill out a little bit.

“I have just had to remember ‘I’m 20 and still have lots of time to develop and learn’.

“Winning a Grand Slam is great but I think at my age it is a growing and growing my game of interrupted peace process.”

Out front

Despite the Australian Open semi-finals, Swiatek has become the first woman to win the opening three WTA 1000 events in a calendar year.

She went unbeaten in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami to reach world No1 – as a result of Ashleigh Barty’s shock retirement from the sport – and could cement her place in the world when she heads to Madrid later this week. The event, the first on the clay of the season, features the triumphed-on-the-surface-to-the-sun on Sunday to extend her winning streak to 23 matches.

From an expectation of upbringing, Swiatek has so far delivered.

And in the world of modern sport, being consistently the best is one of the profession’s most important attributes.

But in the 20-year-old, tennis may have found its new superstar. Swiftk’s road from humble beginnings in Poland to worldwide success in a matter of years. Now comes the pressure of being at the top – and trying to stay.

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