INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Growing up in Poland, a young girl named Iga Swiatek dreamed of many things. One of them wasn’t becoming the No.1-ranked tennis player in the world.
“Because,” she said Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open, “I thought it was not possible. “It’s something that is so over my expectations. It’s a place where anyone wants to be. But for sure, it comes with a lot of pressure and expectations.”
And after a sensational season that saw her win a total of eight titles -- including two of the four majors -- and snap off a 37-match winning streak, Swiatek is finding those outside expectations are leaking into her personal cocoon. In a Media Day appearance before a dozen reporters, Swiatek was brutally honest.
Got any book recommendations for @iga_swiatek? 👇@BNPPARIBASOPEN | #TennisParadise pic.twitter.com/bZF078Blpq— wta (@WTA) March 9, 2023
“After Doha and Dubai, I felt it pretty strongly,” Swiatek said. “Because I won a WTA 500 and was in the final of a 1000 -- it was like a small streak of matches that were pretty solid and I was really composed. But, still, I lost in the final and people were, I don’t know, surprised, not happy with the performance, just critical.
“And it made me think that last year before this huge streak and before winning all these tournaments I would be so happy with this result. But with all these comments right now, I felt like, ‘Ooooh, that’s not enough.’”
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Here are the facts:
Last April 4, Swiatek ascended to the No.1 ranking with the retirement of Ashleigh Barty. Swiatek was 20 years old. She dominated from that lofty spot and currently holds a 4,485-point advantage over No.2-ranked Aryna Sabalenka, your 2023 Australian Open champion. To put that in perspective, Novak Djokovic is the No.1 player on the ATP Tour, with a total of 7,160 points. There are 11 players closer to him than Sabalenka is to Swiatek.
In several weeks, when she’s competing at the Miami Open, Swiatek will have been the top-ranked player for 52 weeks, a full year. That will place her No. 12 on the all-time list, one ahead of Victoria Azarenka -- with Simona Halep (64) and Caroline Wozniacki (71) next in her sights. And the fact that those 52 weeks are consecutive, places her in even more impressive company. Only eight women will have remained No.1 for longer over a single stretch; Justine Henin (61) is No.8.
Swiatek says she’ll be focusing on the in-season Hologic WTA Tour’s Race to the WTA Finals.
“I want to stick to not coming back to what happened last year,” she said. “Every tournament is a different story. Honestly, if I play well, I’ll be high in the rankings. So I’m pretty sure I’m not going to defend all the points, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to stay at No.1.”
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Coco Gauff, whose loss to Swiatek in the Dubai semifinals was her sixth in six matches, said that despite Swiatek’s dominance she isn’t viewed as invincible.
“No one looks at her as some impossible goal,” Gauff said. “I mean, it’s just a tennis player. Obviously, I’m not trying to downplay her achievements. She’s beaten me a lot of times, but I feel like you can’t look at the game that way -- because you want that to be you one day.”
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After winning Roland Garros and the US Open a year ago, Swiatek fell in the fourth round of the Australian Open -- to reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. That loss inspired a rigorous training block back in Warsaw with coach Tomasz Wiktoroski and psychologist Daria Abramowicz.
On Wednesday, Polish journalist Marcin Cholewinski asked some prominent players what parts of Swiatek’s game they would like to appropriate. Aryna Sabalenka and Jessica Pegula, who are ranked just below Swiatek, both said her movement. Gauff offered that she would gladly take her 37-match winning streak. Ons Jabeur’s answer was Swiatek’s mental strength.
“I like her mentality of being a perfectionist and wanting to do everything right,” Jabeur said. “I read her post after Dubai and Doha. She won Doha and did fine in Dubai. [And writes] 'You guys, I’m just human.' And I’m like, 'Iga, it’s OK to lose a final.' That I admire a lot about her.”
Swiatek’s journey in Indian Wells -- where she is the defending champion -- begins Friday. After receiving a bye, Swiatek will play the winner of Thursday’s match between Claire Liu and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. The stirring events of the past year seem to have matured her well beyond someone who will turn 22 at the end of May.
“I feel like there’s a target on my back a little bit, which I didn’t feel last year,” Swiatek said. “It’s a different situation, and I have to adjust to that. So I’m trying not to read a lot of these things. I don’t want it to influence me because I’m happy with all the work I’ve done.
“This is the example of how people’s attitudes changed a little bit -- and I don’t think it’s a positive change -- but for me for sure there is more pressure and expectations because of that. But I’m trying to [cope with] that in the best way possible. Yeah, I think I’m doing good.”