It takes a prodigious talent to know a prodigious talent. Maybe that's why Iga Swiatek and 2020 WTA Coach of the Year Piotr Sierzputowski have been the perfect match ever since her junior days.
Sierzputowski, 28, began coaching when he was 14 years old before pursuing a full-time coaching career at 18 in Warsaw. Sierzputowski began as a hitting partner for his younger sister, Alicja Sierzputowska.
"All the players around her wanted to have somebody similar to me," Sierzputowski said. "So they asked me, of course, as a side job. I was playing tennis. I was in school. So it was just getting some money for me for just a few lessons a week.
"So I started pretty early. When I was 18 I already was working in the club. I decided that I have to finish my career because as everybody knows, tennis at a certain level is expensive because you have to travel."
Given his younger sister's talent, the family's financial resources when to support her career. Sierzputowski moved with her to Warsaw.
"I started working in Warsaw in the club where I eventually met Iga after a few years working there," Sierzputowski said. "I was working with players mostly under 14 years old. I had the No.5 in Tennis Europe at this time, so the girl was playing pretty good."
Then came the fortuitous call in 2016. Swiatek, then 14, was looking for a new coach after Roland Garros and Sierzputowski's boss tapped him on the shoulder. Sierzputowsky was just 23.
"I said I feel like I'm not ready for it because I don't have experience about going from the transition tour, let's say, to WTA because Iga was already at the stage that she made a junior Roland Garros quarterfinal," Sierzputowski said. "It's not a big step, not far away to go to the WTA. You have to take those steps to be there.
"He said, OK, we'll look for a coach. We'll put you on the team as a second coach who can travel, can help, can be on the court and hit with her.
"But I was hitting too weak," Sierzputowski said, laughing. "I was just too weak on the court but I found some good hitting partners."
In the meantime, Swiatek trialed other coaches but kept coming back to Sierzputowski.
"Iga and her father decided that I would stay with them for the next preseason and then we gonna see," Sierzputowski said. "And it stayed until right now. So that's the way how we started our cooperation."
Sierzputowski has been at the helm for Swiatek's successful junior career, which included a junior Wimbledon title, and her grinding success through the ITF Tour as she worked to get her ranking up to earn direct entry into WTA events.
"He's pretty young, but he's also really ambitious," Swiatek said. "He has a good eye. Even though he's young, we are kind of learning together."
Sierzputowski's humility has set the framework for his coaching career. Most importantly, he has not tried to be all things for his young charge and he is quick to acknowledge when he needs help.
"There is not a huge gap in the age between me and Iga," Sierzputowski said. "It's nine years. So I cannot be for her a role model for everything. That's why I need in a team people who know what they are doing. That's why I'm trying to organize the team as best as I can.
"I don't have to be a psychologist. I can hire them. I can advise Iga to get one. The same with the fitness coach, physio. Everything is there, and everything is set up.
"I think I'm the dumbest person on the team. But I feel like I created the team. It was my idea. It was somehow my thinking, how it should look, how it should work, and it's working. So I'm really happy about it because I think this is one of the most important parts of having a tennis coach in the tennis teams on the tour."
After her incredible run to the Roland Garros title last fall, it's been a tricky balance to strike to for Team Swiatek. Increased notoriety and obligations at home have led to Sierzputowski organizing Swiatek's training blocks away from Poland so she can work without distraction. So far the rhythm has worked well. Swiatek started the season by making the Round of 16 at the Australian Open and winning her second WTA title at the Adelaide International.
But there has been no time to relax for Swiatek. Now begins the process of readying for her Roland Garros title defense. After a mini-preseason training block in Sotogrande, Spain, Swiatek is making her tournament debut this week at the Madrid Open.
"I wish I could feel relieved," Swiatek said. "Yeah, even though I had some great matches, I won Adelaide, I still feel like it's not enough. I know it's wrong, but that's how my brain works. I kind of have to fight myself.
"As soon as I'm going to just chill out and just play, it's going to be much, much better. Knowing now that I can really play well, I expect myself to play well in every match. It's not possible because actually [this is] going to be my first full year on tour if I'm not going to get injured or anything. Right now I feel like it's so hard to switch to other places, change your game, to adjust.
"I was playing really, really well in Sotogrande. I felt like perfectly, maybe not at the beginning, but then when I did some work, it was really solid and great. But when I came here, again I felt like I forgot how to play tennis because the balls were bouncing differently, the clay was a little bit different."
It's all part of the learning experience for Swiatek, though her coach may be more enthusiastic about the prospect. It would be easy for Sierzputowski to revel in their success but what excites him is precisely how far Swiatek is from being the player he envisions she can be.
"Even this year, after the [Australian Open] we sat together, and I was really excited that I can implement some new stuff with her, which makes me really, really happy right now, because it's not like we are at the end of our road," Sierzputowski said.
"There is a huge improvement in communication right now. I think she's getting more mature. So I feel we can work on different stuff than at the time when she was junior. Right now we can work on tactical, we can work on energy management, we can work on how she see the player on the other side, not only herself on the court. She's much more aware.
"She's getting to the point I feel like, I hope, in two, three years where she will get to her maximum limit of the knowledge she can get, and then it's gonna be a chess play, like we will move her from one place to another. I feel like this is going to be the best part of her lifetime.
"We will see. I hope she gonna enjoy it, but right now she's learning everything really fast."