When wtatennis.com caught up with rising Polish star Iga Swiatek two days before Christmas, she was involved in the same activity that many people were doing as the holidays swiftly approached -- that being, of course, binging the popular new Netflix fantasy series "The Witcher."
"It's based on Polish novels," the 18-year-old explained. "It’s been a big thing in Poland for a really long time."
As far as big things from Poland are concerned, Swiatek will soon have to add herself to the list. After zipping to the junior Wimbledon singles title in 2018, the teenager completed her first full season at WTA level with aplomb, and has the bona fides to prove that she has already become one of the public's top young stars.
Swiatek's superb season culminated with WTA fans showing their sturdy support for the up-and-comer. In a fan vote at wtatennis.com, one of Swiatek's deft dropshots during her run to the Lugano final was selected as the WTA Shot of the Year.
"That was so exciting, really," Swiatek said. "I wasn’t expecting it." The rising star continues a strong Polish legacy in being selected as the Shot of the Year -- former World No.2 Agnieszka Radwanska carved out wins in the category a whopping five consecutive times from 2013 through 2017.
"A few days before they closed the deadline, we were talking with Agnieszka Radwanska about her always winning it -- it was kind of funny!" the teenager continued. "I’m just really grateful that they voted because I feel like there’s not a lot of people who know me. They also like seeing all the young players."
Swiatek also finished an extremely close second to Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the 2019 WTA Fan Favorite voting. "That was actually more crazy," an awe-struck Swiatek stated, when discussing that photo finish.
It is yet another award where she is queuing up a continuation of Polish success, as Radwanska claimed the top spot in the Fan Favorite vote six straight times, from 2011 through 2016.
"I always felt like most of this sport is about the fans, and we are playing to entertain," said Swiatek. "That was always really important to me, and I want to have a great relationship with fans. I’m always open to everything, I like giving autographs and taking photos."
"It’s not a problem for me -- well, maybe because I’m not famous yet!" she laughed. Swiatek claims that, even in Poland, "when I’m wearing a hat or I have my tennis bag, people recognize me, but without [those accessories], there’s no chance."
Swiatek's humility is ever-present in her chats, even though fans from all over the world are quickly getting to know her due to her rapidly improving results on the WTA. Her rising renown has been spurred on by her breakout 2019 season, where she jumped over 100 spots in the WTA singles rankings into the Top 60.
Among the Polish teen's top 2019 showings are a run to her maiden WTA singles final in Lugano, Switzerland, and her first-ever second-week showing at a Grand Slam event, where she barnstormed to the round of 16 at Roland Garros before falling to defending champion Halep mere days after her 18th birthday.
Swiatek calls her breakthrough major in Paris the "most important" result of her season. "After the French Open, my confidence really improved, and I felt better on court."
Since that point, the rising Pole has been focusing on the mental aspects of her game, including using meditation and working with a psychologist. "I’ve always been practicing tennis and physical stuff, and this year, the mental thing was new," she explained.
"I just feel like it’s probably the most important thing in tennis right now, because every player in the Top 50 can play," Swiatek added. "I’m focusing on that. I think I had great tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, and I saw that I can do better than I thought, so it’s really just confidence and belief. That’s what I’ve been working on the whole year."
Indeed, Swiatek specifically called out her run to the round of 16 as a qualifier at the Rogers Cup in Toronto when breaking down her favorite parts of the season. "The most fun and most memorable for me was Toronto, beating Caroline Wozniacki and then playing against Naomi [Osaka]," she said. "It was just amazing."
Swiatek had to wrap up her 2019 season early, withdrawing from the rest of her tournaments after the US Open due to injury. "For two months, I wasn’t able to walk normally," she explained.
Despite her assertion that she had probably recovered well enough to give the Asian swing a go, "we wanted to be safe, and that’s why we didn’t go to China. I’m young and we don’t want to have more problems later."
Her team's precautionary post-injury tactics meant she did not schedule the 2020 tournament in Auckland, where she made her 2019 season debut. "I think it’s just important to stay healthy. Especially right now, it feels overwhelming, the tour, still, even when I wasn't playing for a few months. So I just want to keep it cool and just do everything step by step."
In her December off-season, Swiatek spent two weeks doing a training block in Dubai, before returning to Poland for the holidays. Back at home, Swiatek is catching up on Netflix and listening to music while preparing for one final push to wrap up her schooling this spring. However, she was happy with her fortnight in Dubai, "because I needed some sun!"
"In Dubai, I was just practicing-sleeping-eating, practicing-sleeping-eating," the young Pole laughed. The main focus during her time at home is on her studies, though. Swiatek's secondary education ends after her final exams in May.
"When I was younger, my parents always said that school is first, and then tennis," said Swiatek. "They raised me and my sister like that, and we always wanted to study."
Swiatek says that she is "doing great" while wrapping up this stage of her education, but admits that the final year is a challenge. "It doesn’t matter if you’re prepared or not, it’s always stressful," the youngster admitted. "But I have experience dealing with stress," laughed the second-highest-ranked 18-year-old in the WTA singles rankings.
University is also on Swiatek's mind, "but I think I want to just try playing tennis for a couple of years," she mused. Nevertheless, she is potentially planning to pick up classes through the WTA university studies program in the future, where such women's tennis luminaries as Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens earned bachelor's degrees.
"Magda Linette is doing one [program], so I have a person to ask," she said, referring to her compatriot, who also had a breakthrough season in singles. "It’s going to be a lot of opportunities for me."
As the 2020 season approaches, Swiatek has one significant milestone in mind. "My biggest goal is to play in the Olympics," she stated. "That was always important for me, so we’re going to focus on that."
Beyond that, Swiatek does not have any specific ranking or result-oriented goals, as she takes a long view of her upcoming season. "I have goals, but they’re not about tournaments," she continued. "They’re what I want to do mentally. I want to grow up and make my tennis more mature."
"I know the result is going to come with hard work, and the result is the final thing," Swiatek stated. "It’s most important what you do before."