Poland's Iga Swiatek embarked on her 2021 season facing uncharted territory. Just three months earlier, she stunned the tennis world with one of the most dominant runs to a major title, winning Roland Garros at just 19 years old. Instead of a sophomore slump, Swiatek enjoyed a standout season that included two titles, unmatched consistency at the Slams and a Top 10 debut that led to her qualification at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara.
Here's how Swiatek's season unfolded:
Starting strong in Australia with first hardcourt title in Adelaide
From Day 1, Swiatek's goal for the season was to work her way toward consistency. En route to the title at Roland Garros, she did not lose a set. As a top junior, she won the girls' Wimbledon title in 2018 by winning 12 consecutive sets. Her ITF title runs were just as dominant. When Swiatek was on, she was unstoppable. Now in her first full season on the WTA Tour, she wanted consistency.
"I wanted to focus more - not more - but have the same attitude on WTA tournaments as well as Grand Slams," Swiatek said in Melbourne. "I don't know how that happens but I always play better on Grand Slams. Maybe it's preparation, maybe it's just the perfect time for me to play. My goal is to be consistent, so I want to play good at basically every tournament."
It took her just three tournaments to get her hands on a trophy. After posting her second Round of 16 appearance at the Australian Open, where she lost 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to Simona Halep, Swiatek ran the table at the Adelaide International to capture her first hardcourt title and second title overall. As she did at Roland Garros, Swiatek did not lose a set in Adelaide, dropping just 22 games in five matches.
"For sure it's good for me because I can see that I can play good tennis for the whole week. It wasn't, like, one time during the French Open," Swiatek said after defeating Belinda Bencic, 6-2, 6-2 in the Adelaide final. "It gives me more confidence that I'm a more developed player and I can play good more often. I'm really happy about that."
From brink to blitz, Swiatek wins first WTA 1000 title in Rome to make Top 10 debut
But back on her favored clay, Swiatek looked ready to continue the clay-court tear that she started last fall. Making her main-draw debut in Madrid, Swiatek set up her first meeting with No.1 Ashleigh Barty - a battle of the last two French Open champions - in the Round of 16, losing 7-5, 6-4.
Road to WTA Finals, singles
- Sabalenka reaches new heights in 2021
- From Roland Garros champ to Top 10, the rise of Krejcikova
- Pliskova secures fifth straight spot in year-end championships
- A history-making season for Greece's Maria Sakkari
- Swiatek strings together impressive sophomore season
Road to WTA Finals, doubles
- Krejcikova and Siniakova enjoy 2021 renaissance
- Aoyama and Shibahara hit their stride
- Hsieh and Mertens gel after tough start
- Commitment pays off for Melichar-Martinez and Schuurs
- Stosur and Zhang make the best of limited partnership
"I was always imagining that when I'm going to win a Grand Slam, I'm going to, I don't know, just enjoy it for the rest of my life, it's going to be rainbows everywhere," Swiatek said. "I'm going to be some kind of at peace in myself that I already won a Grand Slam and I reached my goal.
"The truth is that humans aren't like that. They just want more. I still feel expectations even though I did something great at the French Open. I want more, basically."
There would be no coasting for Swiatek in Rome, where she would capture her first WTA 1000 title in memorable fashion. While her two previous title runs were clear displays of domination, Swiatek came from match point down against Barbora Krejcikova to win 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5 to advance to the quarterfinals.
After finding a way to win ugly and survive the next French Open champion, Swiatek returned to her dominating ways. After defeating Elina Svitolina and Coco Gauff in straight sets to make the final, Swiatek needed just 46 minutes to defeat Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 for the Rome title, becoming just the fourth teenager to win a WTA 1000 tournament. It was the first 6-0, 6-0 win in a WTA final since 2016.
The win propelled Swiatek into the Top 10 the following Monday, as she became the sixth teenager since 2008 to make a Top 10 debut.
Under title defense pressure, a return to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros
With two titles under her belt, a Top 10 debut and statement run in Rome, Swiatek returned to Paris to try to defend a title for the first time in her career. Swiatek confidently worked her way through a potentially tricky first-week draw without losing a set, defeating Kaja Juvan, Rebecca Peterson, Anett Kontaveit and Marta Kostyuk to return to the quarterfinals.
Swiatek's defense would run up against Maria Sakkari, who ended the Pole's 10-match winning streak with a 6-4, 6-4 win. But Swiatek counted her Parisian fortnight a success - she went on to make her first major doubles final with Bethanie Mattek-Sands - and left France on a high note.
Unmatched consistency at the Slams continues at Wimbledon and US Open
By the end of the 2021 Slam Season, Swiatek had achieved a feat no one matched this season. After making the Round of 16 at in her main-draw debuts at both Wimbledon and the US Open, the 20-year-old became the only woman this season to make the Round of 16 or better all four majors.
Trying to stay humble and just putting the work day by day. It's not easy and I still make a lot of mistakes. And it's okay. Matches like this are tricky, so I'm even more happy with the quality and result. See you in round 2! Thanks for being with me three years ago and now.— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) June 28, 2021
At Wimbledon, Swiatek earned straight-sets wins against Hsieh Su-Wei, Vera Zvonareva and Irina-Camelia Begu before losing in three sets to Ons Jabeur. At the US Open, she tallied back-to-back three-set wins over Fiona Ferro and Anett Kontaveit before losing to Bencic in a tough 7-6(12), 6-3 rematch of the Adelaide final.
"I'm not Barty, so I'm not 100% consistent. I'm like 70% consistent," Swiatek said in New York. "I am proud. But the best kind of consistency is when you can win, like, five titles a year. So right now I'm looking at the results that Ash has. When it's comparing to that, I'm not, like, 100% consistent. But I'm glad that, comparing to other players, I'm consistent."
Top 5 debut secured after Ostrava semifinal run
Swiatek went into the final weeks of the regular season with a number of significant milestones in mind. She was in good position to finish her first full WTA season by finishing inside the Top 10, where she qualified for her first WTA Finals and became the first Polish player since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2017 to rank inside the Top 5.
"After [winning] Roland Garros I really didn't know how it's gonna go," Swiatek said at Indian Wells, reflecting on her season. "I actually thought I'm not gonna be able to cope with everything as well as I did."
Swiatek secured her spot in the Top 5, at a career high No.4, after making the semifinals in Ostrava and then secured her place in Guadalajara after making the Round of 16 at Indian Wells in her main-draw debut. As she eyes her first WTA Finals appearance, Swiatek finished the regular season with a 35-13 record, making the Round of 16 or better at 11 of 14 WTA tournaments.