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"She's always hitting winners": Six months after trusting her talent like never before, Iga Swiatek is the one setting new standards in ground-stroke prowess
The now two-time Roland Garros champion once again demonstrated throughout her latest Paris title run if one can hit the ball past people at will, with little risk, there's no reason to do anything else.
Published Jun 04, 2022
CHAMPIONSHIP POINT: Swiatek closes out Gauff
“Hitting winners, she’s always hitting winners,” Coco Gauff said when she was asked what Iga Swiatek does well.
It really is as simple as that for Swiatek these days. The most remarkable thing about her stat lines in Paris over the last two weeks is how narrow and focused her attack has been. She hits few aces; tries almost no drop shots, approach shots, volleys or smashes; and is rarely forced to come up with a passing shot or a lob. This doesn’t mean Swiatek is one-dimensional; it means she doesn’t need to bother with variety to win. If you can hit the ball past people at will, with little risk, why would you do anything else?
Credit Gauff for keeping Swiatek’s official winner count fairly low in the final. The American was fast and rangy enough to get a racquet on many of the Pole’s ground-stroke missiles. In the end, though, it was a Pyrrhic victory, because just getting a racquet on a ball didn’t mean it will go back over the net. Against Gauff, the shots that usually count as clean winners for Swiatek turned into forced errors instead; Gauff ended up committing 23 of them, and Swiatek just nine.
More telling, perhaps, is what happened when Swiatek was briefly challenged. At the start of the second set, Gauff broke and went up 2-0. The crowd, hoping to see some tension injected into their afternoon, roared for more of the same. Instead, Swiatek quieted them back down with a forehand winner, a backhand winner, and another forehand winner to hold. She lost just one more game. When she needed to, Swiatek could put the ball out of Gauff’s reach. As well as she played in this final, there were levels to her game that she didn’t need to access today.
According to Gauff, Swiatek’s ability to attack from anywhere, and answer an opponent’s strong shot with a stronger one of her own, is what separates her from the WTA pack.
“From playing other players, you’re not used to seeing so many winners down the line off of certain shots, so you’re not prepared to even run in that direction,” Gauff said. “Even the heavy balls that I tried to throw in there, she was taking them early and hitting winners off of them.”
“Strategy-wise, I mean, honestly it was tough to come up with something for someone who hasn’t lost in a while.”
Throughout this tournament, we had heard hints from commentators about how Swiatek was having an off day, or looked nervous, or was feeling the pressure, or was more hesitant than usual. On a couple of occasions, Swiatek admitted as much. Yet she won her semifinal in 64 minutes, the final in 68 minutes, and dropped just one set, in a tiebreaker, over the course of two weeks. She won her 35th straight match, and has now won 45 of her last 47 sets. She’s 9-1 in finals, and hasn’t lost a set in any of them since 2019.
But that winning streak wouldn’t have meant as much if she had lost today, and she knew it. While the rest of the Top 10 was crashing out in Paris, she kept plowing ahead.
“It’s basically the hardest part of the job,” Swiatek said of winning a major title. “You can see in Grand Slams that there are a lot of surprises. It’s not easy to cope with all that different atmosphere and the pressure, because everybody is preparing for the Grand Slams always, you know.”
“I felt the baggage. The hardest thing is like not letting yourself think about that and overanalyze, and not letting yourself think about all the numbers and the odds, you know. I’ve been doing that for a few months now, and for sure, two weeks here were harder.
“But it’s part of the work and Im getting better and better at it, and that’s also something that I’m proud of.”
Swiatek’s transformation has been so thorough in 2022, it’s hard to remember that it only began in January. In 2021, she didn’t win a title over the last five months of the season, and the tears flowed on more than one occasion, even when she was winning. The biggest difference, obviously, is in her coaching team. At the end of 2021, she split with Piotr Sierzputowski and hired Tomasz Witorowski, a change that she described as “really challenging for me.”
Witorowski believed she needed to trust in her ability to take on more risk with her shots, so he suggested that she swing more freely and play with a more relentless aggression. Swiatek, who thought of herself as a consistent clay-courter rather than an all-or-nothing ball-belter, was skeptical at first. But she could see that the women’s game was speeding up around her, and decided she would have to speed up with it.
“I have more moments when I can feel that I have nothing to lose, and I’m going all in,” Swiatek said earlier this year. “Before, really, I didn’t want to take that risk, because I didn’t want to be that kind of player who is just going to shoot the balls, and we’re going to see if it’s going to be in or out.”
“I wanted always to be solid and be the kind of clay-court player who is going to play topspin and stay back, but really, right now tennis is getting faster and faster. Players who are attacking and leading are winning. I wanted to also learn how to do that.”
Swiatek has learned so well that she’s doing it better, far better, than anyone else. It’s satisfying, for her and for us, to see how far a great player can go when she trusts herself.