ROME -- Twelve months ago, Iga Swiatek had yet to break into the Top 10 when she arrived at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Then, as has quickly become the signature of Swiatek's career, she burst through that barrier, winning her first WTA 1000 title by a 6-0, 6-0 win in the final. 

A year on, the defending champion returns to the Eternal City as the clear-cut World No.1. After reeling off 23 straight wins and four consecutive titles, in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Stuttgart, the 2020 Roland Garros champion is rested and ready to attack her favorite surface. 

"Last year I feel like I still was trying to find some consistency in the wins that I had, and also confirmation that Roland Garros wasn't just like a [one-off] tournament," Swiatek told reporters at Media Day in Rome. "I feel like I found that and I feel like I can move forward and just focus on my next goals. 

"The tournaments that I played this year have shown me that I can play better tennis on hard courts. Right now the transition that I have to do to clay, it's pretty different because usually it was like, 'Whoa, clay, finally I can play well.' Right now it's a little bit different because I feel like my level was high anyway. It didn't strike me [the same] this year."

After withdrawing from the Mutua Madrid Open, Swiatek, 20, put the racquets down for five days before heading to the Rafael Nadal Academy in Mallorca to put in a high-intensity training block on clay. 

"It's pretty weird because I really rested, then they almost killed me on the practices," Swiatek said. "Hopefully it's going to give me more power and I'm going to be more ready to play well next tournaments."

The top seed in Rome, Swiatek has a bye into the second round and will face either Shelby Rogers or Alison Riske to open her tournament. A victory would extend her streak to 24 matches, which would be the longest streak since Serena Williams won 27 straight in 2015.

Swiatek, who had played non-stop since Dubai, said her two-week break from competition has allowed her to reflect and refresh.  

"I feel like the chapter is a little bit closed," Swiatek said. "Still I'm coming back to [these] moments, which is maybe not good sometimes because you can get your expectations high. I'm working this season also not to look [back] on what happened - doesn't matter if it's good or bad - just looking forward. I think it's going to give me more freedom. My mind is going to be more clear."

"It's kind of sometimes overwhelming that they're looking up to me because honestly, two years ago, I was the one looking up to everybody."

If Swiatek's ears were burning while she was kicking up her feet, it's because she remained a topic of conversation among the player set in Madrid. From Naomi Osaka to Madrid champion Ons Jabeur, players went out of their way to celebrate Swiatek. 

'She inspires us' - From Osaka to Jabeur, players celebrate Swiatek's surge

"That is probably one of the nicest things I experienced on tour, I would say," Swiatek said. "I saw what Coco was saying and Ons. I wasn't even hoping that players were going to talk about me that way because it's such a nice thing.

"Honestly, I'm pretty glad with just being myself and people are thinking that I'm nice and stuff. It's kind of sometimes overwhelming that they're looking up to me because honestly, two years ago, I was the one looking up to everybody. It's such a new position for me that I don't really know how to react.

"Hopefully I'm going to get used to it and, hopefully, I'm going to have a chance to show good work and good kind of examples."

Champion's Reel: How Iga Swiatek won Rome 2021