Iga Swiatek holds off improving rivals to continue on path to greatness


As the summer approached and the North American hardcourt tournaments began, Iga Swiatek’s frustration became evident. Despite her accomplishments in the season, including a third French Open title and four titles overall, she had not matched her remarkable performance in 2022. However, her consistent play resulted in an impressive record of 53 wins and 8 losses.

However, for certain individuals, that was insufficient. Following a comeback from being behind in the match, Swiatek confidently defeated Zheng Qinwen 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 in Cincinnati. During her press conference, she began with a personal statement, urging fans to show more support and less harshness towards her performances. She mentioned that some had gone as far as sending critical emails to her team. It was evident that the intense scrutiny of being the center of attention in her sport was taking a toll on her.

Swiatek expressed her disappointment with today’s match, acknowledging its imperfections. However, she found the amount of hate and criticism directed towards her and her team, even after losing a set, to be excessive.

In the previous season, Aryna Sabalenka’s remarkable performance put intense pressure on Swiatek’s top ranking, while her rivals also closed in due to added expectations and unsolicited opinions. Elena Rybakina won all three of their matches, and Jessica Pegula defeated Swiatek for the second time that week in 2023. Shortly after, Coco Gauff achieved her first victory over Swiatek.

However, despite encountering numerous challenges, Swiatek continues to be the top player in her sport following a highly successful week at the WTA Finals in Cancún. Along with her powerful and precise groundstrokes, her exceptional athleticism and impeccable return game, Swiatek has once again demonstrated her unwavering dedication to her craft and a resilience that sets her apart from others.

It cannot be emphasized enough that Swiatek is well on her way to becoming one of the greatest in history. At the young age of 22, she has already achieved four grand slam titles, 17 overall titles, and 76 weeks at the top ranking. She has also won eight different major titles, including grand slams, WTA Finals, and WTA 1000s, out of a possible 14. Historically, the top players have a winning rate of approximately 80%, a feat that has not been matched by any female player since Maria Sharapova. Swiatek’s career record in main draws is an impressive 199-52 (79.3%).

Iga Swiatek plays a forehand on her way to winning the French Open final against Karolina Muchova.

However, this season holds great importance due to the progress made by the top players. Swiatek and Sabalenka both achieved impressive point totals of 9295 and 9050, respectively. This marks the first instance since 2012 that the top two players have surpassed 9000 points.

Sabalenka’s mental and physical growth has been a standout of the season. She has mastered the art of controlling her incredible strength and achieving victory week after week, demonstrating the necessary consistency to attain the top ranking.

Although she showed significant progress, she could have accomplished even more. Sabalenka squandered substantial leads against Karolina Muchova and Ons Jabeur in the semi-finals of the French Open and Wimbledon, and despite taking the lead against Gauff in the US Open final, she ultimately fell short. While her determination after each defeat was admirable, her mental barriers hindered her success. These shortcomings should serve as enough incentive for the 25-year-old to face Swiatek once again in 2024.

Prior to the conclusion of the initial round of Wimbledon, Gauff suffered a defeat and departed from the tournament in a state of distress. She began to doubt if she would ever reach the ambitious goals she had set for herself years ago. However, after making the wise choice to hire Brad Gilbert as her father took a step back, the 19-year-old bounced back and had a successful summer, culminating in winning the US Open. As long as she maintains her strong work ethic and makes intelligent choices, this is just the start of her promising career.

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Marketa Vondrousova caused a major upset by winning Wimbledon while ranked 42nd, in what was otherwise a stable season. While she may still be adjusting to the new altitude, her arsenal of shots makes her a strong contender on the clay courts and at Roland Garros. Jabeur, on the other hand, believes she should have won the Wimbledon final and the pain of losing her first three major finals still lingers. Despite Elena Rybakina’s dip in form towards the end of the season, the 24-year-old has proven herself to be a consistent threat and her 2022 Wimbledon triumph is unlikely to be her last major accomplishment.

Coco Gauff holds the trophy after winning the US Open in September.

Several players rose to the occasion, but the absences were also significant. Naomi Osaka will make a comeback in January following the birth of her daughter, Shai, and taking a much-needed break from the game. She remains one of the few players capable of challenging Swiatek, but only if she is motivated and fully focused. Emma Raducanu, on the other hand, will also make a return after an eight-month break due to two hand surgeries and ankle surgery in April. Her decision on coaches remains a hot topic, but it remains uncertain if her body can withstand the demands of professional tennis.

Similar to Swiatek, these athletes have faced challenges due to the intense attention that comes with their achievements. However, they, along with others, will have another chance in 2024. While the top players strive to maintain their positions that they fought for, fresh starts and potential for growth await the remaining competitors.

Source: theguardian.com

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