A few hours after Iga Swiatek consolidated her dominance with a second French Open title while blazing to a 35th consecutive win in the run that never ends the exhausted champion from Poland, speaking from the corner of a tiny room, kicked her leg up over the handle of her chair as she recounted the years that led up to her current success.
“My journey from the beginning was basically what my dad thought was the best,” Swiatek said. “He made really good choices, really bad choices sometimes, but it wasn’t like I had 10 people around me telling us how to deal with anything and telling us what to do. We had to choose our own path and for sure we got really lucky that he made some good decisions and I had good coaches at the beginning because, honestly, I didn’t have any system that could help us.”
Even as Swiatek displayed her early promise as a junior, it took a long time for her to believe that she could achieve the career that she is currently building.
She may have been a perfectionist who always felt that she could do better, but the death of examples from her part of the world made such success far more difficult to imagine.
“It was pretty hard for me to believe that I’m gonna be world No 1,” she said. “Because thinking logically, when you take my country, how many people have succeeded, it was only Agnieszka [Radwanska] basically. The probability of me becoming a tennis superstar was pretty small. I like maths and my brain usually thinks about probabilities, so I felt that maybe it’s not sure and it would be hard to make it happen.”
That insecurity drove the choices she made, most notably her decision to remain in school until she finished high school: “I always had a plan B,” she said.
“Even when I was 18, I still went to high school and I was really focused on that. I felt like I was working two jobs at a time. Even in 2020, I still felt like I needed a plan B in case tennis is not gonna work out.”
This season started with one complete, extremely consistent world No 1, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, playing the best tennis of her career and tearing up the tour. Since Barty’s retirement Swiatek has not lost a match.
That they so narrowly missed each other in top form, and they were unable to build a rivalry, has to be the biggest missed opportunity in the WTA’s recent history.
Swiatek says that Barty has supportively texted her numerous times since her retirement and, when asked if she wishes she could have tested her current game against Barty’s, she was never more animated.
“I do,” she said. “I was thinking about that yesterday. I would love to be in a better shape than I was when I was playing against her, just have more variety and more abilities and to win against Ash. That would be great.”
The tennis season moves quickly and on Monday the grass season begins, a new frontier for Swiatek to conquer as she attempts to extend her streak. Swiatek actually won her only junior grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2018 but she does not rate herself highly on the surface yet. She has consistently reasoned that the conditions were slower that year.
“My coach believes I can win more matches on grass,” she said. “I don’t know about that yet. But I would like to add like one or two. Yeah, but honestly, grass is always tricky. I actually like the part that I have no expectations there. It’s something kind of refreshing.”
Swiatek is currently on the entry list for the Berlin WTA 500 tournament, which begins on 13 June, but it seems unlikely that she will play. When her sights of her shift to the grass, she will prepare on a couple of grass courts at a private club an hour and a half from Warsaw.
But for now, her priorities are clear. After watching her idol Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, she will spend as many days as possible without a tennis racket in her hands. “That will be like the nicest thing for me because I have been on tour since Fed Cup [in April],” she said. “Then I came back home for like one night. It doesn’t really count.”