Unprecedented. That's the only way to describe Iga Swiatek's sweep of the first WTA 1000 events of the season, capped off by her 17th consecutive win on Saturday to win the Miami Open and complete the Sunshine Double.
Swiatek, 20, became the youngest woman to win Indian Wells and Miami in the same season, joining Stefanie Graf, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka as the only four women to do so. With her win in Doha in February, Swiatek became the first player to sweep the first three WTA 1000s in a season.
That she did it all while managing the surprise Ashleigh Barty's sudden retirement to dominate a draw that included wins against Coco Gauff, Petra Kvitova, Jessica Pegula and Naomi Osaka in the final only adds to the degree of difficulty. After winning her opening match over Viktorija Golubic, Swiatek sealed her ascension to the No.1 ranking vacated by Barty. On Monday, Swiatek became Poland's first World No.1.
We left January wondering, "How do you beat Ash Barty?"
Two months later, we're wondering the exact same thing about Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek and her sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz joined the WTA Insider Podcast to discuss the keys to their success.
WTA Insider: When you look back on the past six weeks, what was the key to sweeping these three tournaments?
Swiatek: That's a hard question because basically, I would say physically it was hard to keep up, staying in the routines and also being focused on eating healthy and all these small things that are around and that are pretty annoying after a few weeks. That was tough.
I think the thing that made the whole difference was my attitude and my different mentality. Right now, I feel like I can play more fearless tennis and use all the stuff that I've been working on in practice and convert it into my match game. That's the most important thing because we have to perform the best in tennis. At the end, when I was stepping out on court I was pretty confident that I can dominate.
WTA Insider: In Miami, you were winning your matches by executing a variety of different game styles. You weren't playing the same way all the time. How long has it taken you to have the confidence to be able to implement different game styles?
Swiatek: I'm glad that Tomasz has convinced me to work on having more variety. I think this really helps because in the end if you don't have options then you have nothing to choose from, you know? So I'm really happy that I could do that.
But actually, I think that this year I'm not adjusting that much to what my opponent is playing. It's really helpful because it helps me stay focused on myself, on my skills, on my powerful shots, and I can actually use what I was working on. Last season I felt I was maybe overanalyzing a little bit how my opponents were playing and that leads to more confusion. So I think not adjusting is working better. I don't know why.
WTA Insider: You're not adjusting in-match, but you're going in with a clear game plan?
Swiatek: For sure I have a plan and statistically, I know where my opponent is maybe going to make more mistakes. But in the end, it's my game that's going to force them to make the mistakes so I'm just focusing more on myself.
WTA Insider: What has been the key to your return game this year? You lead the tour in return games won. What's your attitude in return games?
Swiatek: On return, it's all about the reaction and the movement. The movement is always something that I've been comfortable with. This year I feel like I'm a little bit quicker maybe, and I can actually have more initiative on return games, not only push it back sometimes.
That's the only thing I can tell you. The other stuff [is a secret].
🥰I'm pretty sure that tomorrow the sun will shine exactly the same way as today but for now...it feels surreal.— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) March 26, 2022
🥰Jestem prawie pewna, że jutro słońce będzie świeciło tak samo jak dziś, póki co to wszystko wydaje się jednak nierealne.
Numer 1!!#1GA #whataride pic.twitter.com/3jUw1lI69d
WTA Insider: You'll be Poland's first World No.1 on Monday. You said after the final that early in the tournament, you weren't sure if you deserved it. Why did you think that at the time and did winning Miami help to close that gap?
Swiatek: It helped for sure. After Miami, I thought that maybe it would happen anyway if Ash wasn't retiring.
But at first, for sure the way it happened I wasn't 100% satisfied because I knew Ash has the best tennis out there. When I was playing against her I felt like I had much more to improve. For me, she was the one to be World No.1 for these times. It gave me a lot of motivation to work on myself and I realized that maybe in a few years it would be possible for me.
But the way it happened, it didn't help for me to believe that I deserve it. Also, I'm so young. I know that there are many players who have been on tour for more than 10 years didn't have a chance to be World No.1.
WTA Insider: 26-3 and now we go to your favorite surface. What is your mentality with respect to getting back on clay and whether any of this impacts how you go into this section of the season.
Swiatek: It is really exciting because I always felt like even when I'm going to have the same results on clay it's always more comfortable for me to play on clay. I'm just more comfortable there. Actually, I feel like I can hit even more variety than on hard courts.
Basically, I don't care what my results are going to be. I know there's going to be a lot of pressure and I can't promise that I'm going to handle it well because I've never been in a situation like that before. So I'm going to do my best to do that well.
Highlights from Abramowicz's interview on the WTA Insider Podcast
Abramowicz: At the end of the day, my role is to help her create, build and sustain routines and also modify and manage them in many different environments. Because that's how the tour works, with the intensity of travel, changing time zones, changing places, changing venues, even the positions you're in throughout the year.
Iga is now No.1. A week ago she was probably thinking, 'OK, I achieved the No.2 position but now there is Ash and I want to chase her.' Now it changes overnight. Sometimes you might become No.20 or drop more in the rankings. It happens, that's how it is. So creating some sort of routines and building the toolbox that helps in different circumstances is one of the most relevant and crucial ways.
If I can say it another way, in Doha, when she was warming up before the final against Anett Kontaveit, we were at the gym. There were two TVs and there was no one to switch them off. On one of the screens was the live broadcast from BBC, the other from Al Jazeera from Ukraine.
Sometimes you have these sorts of circumstances. We would say this is the crisis management of my profession. Sometimes it happens. Covid happened. Other things happened. We try to build a system that works in different environments and different circumstances even if they are really tough ones.
In sports and also in business, people are trying to prepare themselves for coping with a loss or worse performance when they're underperforming, what to improve, what mistakes were made and how to adjust. This is great. Obviously, it helps to develop and it helps to reframe sometimes and adjust. This is really important.
But on the other hand, I would say we don't put enough attention to thinking and working on how to manage a success. This is something that is important to be able to prepare a player, team and environment for everything that happens when you achieve your goal.
Being No.1, winning a tournament, this is a goal. It's not a dream that is impossible to think about in terms of being real or potentially happening. This is a real-time goal. I'm putting a lot of attention and a lot of effort into preparing everyone, especially Iga, to manage a success when it comes. I think this is an approach that helps in top sports, even in terms of building confidence.
What we did across this last few weeks was develop this mindset that allows you to accept that there is no streak that goes indefinitely. At some point, she will lose a match. First, she will lose a set, and it will happen, she will lose a match. Maybe in some circumstances, she will underperform because something will happen, or she or we will make a mistake. And that's ok because that's life, that's sport, that's the beauty of it, that's the reality.
But once you accept that it might happen, that doesn't mean that you're willing to do it. This mindset still keeps you very close to the high standards to create the best possible quality and focusing the energy on the things you can control. So this is the biggest factor in developing the mindset that she is in.