New world number 1 Iga Swiatek has revealed her devastation at learning that Ash Barty has retired from tennis.
“I cried for 40 minutes,” Swiatek told the BBC.
“It was mainly because of Ash’s retirement. I didn’t know that was going to happen and it really surprised me.
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“I always had this vision that we would all play until we were 35 or something, until our bodies were so tired that we couldn’t anymore.
When Swiatek’s last match ended with another victory, her 17th straight, she ran to greet her team in a corner of the Miami Open stadium. She shook her head, put her hands near her temples, and made the universal “mind blowing” gesture.
Yes, that run has been impressive: Swiatek is 26-3 overall in 2022 and the first woman to win the first three WTA 1000 events in a season. Also impressive: the 2020 Roland-Garros champion’s rapid rise to the top of the rankings, officially replacing the recently retired Barty there on Monday.
What none of that has been, to anyone paying attention, is surprising – though Swiatek says the whirlwind of the past few weeks has caught her a little off guard.
“Sometimes I think it’s a bit too much, you know?” the 20-year-old Pole said in a video interview with The Associated Press.
When asked what she meant by that, Swiatek – whose last name is pronounced shvee-ON-tek – explained: “I haven’t had much time to rest and think about what led to this success or how it happened, basically, because it was all going very fast.
It is certainly true.
Consider where she was 18 months ago.
Still a teenager, ranked 54th, with no tower-level trophy to her name, she harnessed a topspin-heavy forehand, a willingness to change shot speeds, ground coverage on every ball, a strong return and a intelligence in match in a Grand Slam championship in Paris in October 2020.
Those skills are evident to this day, along with improvements such as the kick serve that bothered Naomi Osaka – a four-time major champion and former No. 1 herself – in the Miami final.
Instead of the kind of setback that can often accompany a Grand Slam breakthrough, especially that of someone so young, Swiatek kept his feet on the ground and his head in the game, reaching at least the fourth round in each of the subsequent rounds. five majors, including a semi-final at the Australian Open in January.
And his ranking has steadily climbed, rising to No. 17 at the end of 2020, No. 4 to close 2021 and No. 2 thanks to his victory in Indian Wells, Calif., last month.
“It was really cool to watch her grow up,” Osaka said. “For me, I think the most impressive thing is being able to string together those two (tournament) wins in a row.
While the final stage was accelerated by Barty’s departure from the game – and the decision to drop the rankings rather than stay at No. 1 for as long as his points allowed – it was clearly a natural progression for Swiatek.
“Just watching your journey is really amazing,” Osaka told Swiatek at the trophy presentation ceremony on Saturday, “and I hope you keep having fun.”
After some time in Florida, Swiatek said, she will return home to Warsaw, where she is sure to be celebrated as the first Polish tennis player – female or male – to reach No.
And then it’s all about getting ready and playing on the clay-court circuit, leading up to Roland Garros, where play begins on May 22.
Swiatek is eagerly awaiting a chance to decompress and understand all that has happened recently. For one thing, while she knew the talent and ability were there, she couldn’t know for sure what kind of effect the mental pressure and physical exhaustion of competing so much in such a short time would have.
“To be honest, I know what kind of tennis I can play. And (in) training I showed a similar level. But I thought it would be possible for me to play like that in games maybe in a few years,” Swiatek said. “So it’s a bit mind-blowing, because I felt like everything clicked into place this season. And I didn’t expect to be so consistent.
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