How do you follow up breakout season that saw you lay down one of the most dominant runs to a Slam title in tennis history? That's the question for Poland's teenage phenom and reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek. The 19-year-old is set to kick off her 2021 season at one of next week's Melbourne WTA 500 events - either the Gippsland Trophy or Yarra Valley Classic - which will be her first event since winning in Paris last fall.
WTA Insider caught up with Swiatek in the middle of her pre-season preparation in December, where she was training in Tenerife, Spain.
WTA Insider: How has life been for you after Roland Garros? Do you feel like you had enough time to decompress and process everything?
Swiatek: I needed a lot of time because my life changed and I had much more obligations than before from the business side and media. It's been two months since the French Open and I thought I would be settled with everything in two months, but it's still different.
When I came here it was much easier for me to focus just on practicing because I have a different mindset in places other than my hometown. It seems like I'm much more efficient when I'm outside of Warsaw, so we decided to come to Spain.
It's great. We're practicing really hard. Everything is going well. I feel really good on court.
We're also working with Daria [Abramowicz] on the mental side because I know the next season will be harder for me because of expectations and all that. So we're really busy but it's nice to be in a place like that when in Poland it's like 3 degrees.
WTA Insider: It sounds like being back on the court helped you find more stability?
Swiatek: The two weeks were crazy after the French Open. But later, when we started focusing on practice, I thought it would be hard for me because I was tired. But actually, when I was on court it was like coming back to basics and back to what I know and what I've been doing for so long.
It was great. I could see that it's my place to be and I felt safe there, good and confident.
WTA Insider: You had quite the showing at the year-end 2020 WTA Awards. You were voted by the media as the Most Improved Player, your coach was voted by his colleagues as Coach of the Year, and the fans voted you the Fan Favorite. Knowing how tight your team is, it must have meant a lot for Piotr to earn that recognition.
Swiatek: I always said that tennis is not an individual sport and there are so many people working so hard behind me. Coach, he's been with me for four years now. He knows me really well. Since I was a kid - I'm only 19, so I'm still only a kid - he's seen how I changed through these four years and he's growing up with me, which is great. I'm a teen and there's a lot of change in my life and he's catching up with that.
We have a good relationship not just on the court but also we're having fun outside. He deserves it. It's great.
WTA Insider: What is it about Piotr that clicks well with you and gets the best tennis out of you?
Swiatek: That's a hard question. We just have a good connection outside of the court. That's really important for me because I feel comfortable when I'm traveling. Before, when my team was smaller, I was only practicing with him, so he was the only person supporting me. He was with me no matter what. I would say this is the main reason.
Also, he's really open-minded. He's learning with me. He can say that his player won a Grand Slam, but actually, when we were talking about our goals for next season, he said he'll be satisfied when I win a few of them. It's not going to be the only one and we're going to prove that I can be consistent and be a mature player. I know he's ambitious and wants to learn more.
WTA Insider: What has it been like to sit down and make goals for 2021 now that you're a Slam champion?
Swiatek: It's kind of the same. It's great because the process didn't change and I have to do everything the same as usual, which is great because I feel safe in that sphere.
I have in the back in my mind that I will have bigger sponsors and bigger obligations, so that will be new. But I was going to school normally - I didn't do online classes - and I had a lot of responsibilities there and right now I don't have that. So I know that I can perform good even though my off-court life is really busy.
So actually I think it's great that I learned that when I was going to school because right now it's different obligations but it's time-consuming. Other than that, it's pretty much the same and I like that. I feel like everybody is treating me differently but inside it's the same.
It's a different kind of pressure, but I could handle school and tennis at the same time so I can handle anything (laughs). It wasn't that easy.
WTA Insider: What was your reaction to winning Fan Favorite? With Agnieszka Radwanska winning the award for six straight years (2011-2016), how does it feel to bring this award back to Poland?
Swiatek: Looking at the many years that Agnieszka won this so many times, I'm asking myself if it's the Polish fans who are voting and voting (laughs).
It's great. I can really feel the support and that people have positive vibes towards me. Even if I don't know them I can see that they're really happy for me and I really appreciate it because many of them have their own problems and the pandemic is here and it's not easy all the time, but it's good that I can have a positive impact on the society.
WTA Insider: Do you feel ready to handle that side of things, in terms of being a role model, setting an example, and making an impact worldwide?
Swiatek: I was thinking about this in the past few months because there was some political stuff in Poland that everyone was talking about and I didn't make any statement on it. I was thinking about if this is the time for me to make a statement or not. But everything is still kind of new for me. I have an opinion but it's a private one.
I know when I'm ready I will make a statement and be a part of that life, like Naomi (Osaka) did at the Western & Southern Open. I really respect that and I hope I'm going to do that in the future, but right now I don't feel ready because I'm only 19 and I have to kind of learn and see how it develops.
Right now, I think I would be the right person to be a role model in terms of playing tennis, but when I think about having a bigger impact on politics and society, I think I still need more time.
WTA Insider: At Roland Garros you said the goal now is consistency. What are those discussions like with your team in terms of what it will demand of you to play this kind of tennis week in and week out?
Swiatek: I still think that I'm not going to achieve that this year and I'm still going to need some time, but we're starting from basics. I was talking to Daria, that I could be more consistent one day after another, or one practice after another. Talking about tournaments and being consistent the whole year is the bigger picture, but we're starting from the basics.
Right now I'm trying to be more consistent during this pre-season and then I am going to think about performance because I still have some things lacking in the basic stuff.
WTA Insider: Since Paris, what have been the highlights for you? What are the fun or cool things you've been able to do since becoming a Slam champion?
Swiatek: I gained some experience on the business side of life. It's great because I know this is the knowledge I can use when my career in tennis is done. So it was really important for me to get that.
And also I really appreciate that I could go back to normality and just practicing because it was so crazy after the French Open that I asked myself will I ever be able to rest again?
But then the pre-season came and I could just focus on myself and my tennis again. We went to a small town in Poland outside of Warsaw and I think it was the hardest seven days of practice that I ever did. It was just cool getting back to work.
I really appreciated it. I know it's not cool and it's not a fun answer, but it's true.
WTA Insider: What are you looking forward to as you look ahead to the start of the season?
Swiatek: I'm looking forward to being in Melbourne outside of the bubble. We'll be in quarantine and then we can go outside and it's great. I'm looking forward to that because when I was here in Tenerife, I realized it was the first time since the start of the pandemic when I was abroad and I could go sightseeing. I didn't realize it in New York or Rome, for example.