20232002 swiatek
World No.1 Iga Swiatek Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Justine Henin and Serena Williams lorded over women’s tennis in their halcyon days. These were generational players: exceptional talents backed by a steely determination to win. With Williams on the wane, the WTA tour had worn an open look. That’s until Iga Swiatek arrived on the scene.

The Warsaw-born Polish player could well be the dominant player of her time. There’s enough reason to believe it. More so since 2022 has been a milestone in the 21-year-old’s fledgling pro career. A year in which she vaulted to the top of the WTA rankings.

Currently the World No. 1, Swiatek owns three Grand Slam titles (two French Open and a US Open), of which two materialised last year. Not just that. She strung together a 35-match win streak that evoked memories of the dominance of some of the legends in women’s tennis.

Can Swiatek become a dominant player like Steffi Graf and Serena Williams? The Pole thinks that’s possible. “Last year, I was pretty dominant, so yeah,” she said without batting an eyelid during a media interaction at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Monday.

Despite the hot streak, Swiatek suffered setbacks in January. The United Cup semifinal loss to Jessica Pegula was followed by a fourth-round loss to Elena Rybakina. Quite uncharacteristic for the world’s top-ranked player.

“It was the beginning of the season. My pre-season was pretty intense on the court and also off the court. I still feel like I did a really good job in United Cup. Before the travel day, I was playing really, really solid matches. In the Australian Open as well, I played against Elena [Rybakina], and she totally deserved to win. She went to the final later. For sure, she was in good shape.” That was how Swiatek summed up the January slump.

The early exit from Melbourne seemed to have helped the Pole to pick up the pieces and recharge her batteries. That was evident in the near-flawless display in the Qatar Open a few days back.

“I really used the time after Australian Open properly, and I could reset and focus just on working on my technique — and mentally also kind of reset. I learned a lesson in my last match in Australia. I realise I have to be energetically there on the court and run a little bit more, [and] give more. In Doha, I was able to do that,” Swiatek said of her revival, which led to the Qatar Open title, dropping just five games in her three matches.

She’s hoping to ride the rich vein of form to win her maiden Dubai title. Swiatek’s last two trips to Dubai haven’t been successful, crashing out in the Round of 32. Will it be third time lucky? “I don’t know. We’ll see,” was her guarded reply, which is understandable, given of quality of the field that features 17 of the top 20 players.

Swiatek is the top seed in Dubai, and she’s been in rousing form in Doha. So it will be tough to stop her from picking her first title here.

Swiatek: Her travels, books and music
What do tennis players do to relax? Iga Swiatek loves travelling and reading during her downtime. Music too.

“Last year actually was the first year that I managed to not spend all my time thinking about tennis. I went to some really nice places. I basically stayed after tournaments for a couple of days in Australia, in Miami. In Paris. It was really nice.

“This year, I want to continue that because it gives me a lot of perspective. We’re travelling all the time, but it’s more work. It’s nice also to travel for fun a little bit, to see the world,” the Polish World No. 1 said.

Swiatek found some time to read as well. I read two books by the Italian author [Stefania Auci]. ‘Lions of Sicily’, it’s pretty nice. It was the best book I read in a while,” she said.

As for music, Swiatek loves rock. “I change a little bit, but it’s still rock. It’s still, like, Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin,” she added.