In-form Iga fired up in the desert

 - Reem Abulleil

World No.4 Swiatek shows her grit en route to Indian Wells fourth round.

Iga Swiatek / Indian Wells 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

When Iga Swiatek won Roland-Garros as a 19-year-old ranked 54 in the world in the autumn of 2020, she told the Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd during the trophy ceremony she was intent on becoming a consistent force on the women’s tour.

Eighteen months on, Swiatek is ranked a career-high No.4, has added three more titles to her resume – including two WTA 1000 crowns – and is carrying a seven-match winning streak into her upcoming last-16 clash with Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells on Tuesday.

Last year, Swiatek was the only woman to make the second week at all four majors. She started 2022 by reaching the semi-finals in Adelaide and at the Australian Open before lifting the trophy in Doha last month.

When it comes to her vow of consistency, Swiatek has certainly stayed true to her word.

New coach, new skills

The 20-year-old Pole leads the tour this season with 16 match-wins and could crack the top-three for the first time with a good run at Indian Wells this week.

While Swiatek has been building towards this level of consistency over the past year and a half, there have also been some standout improvements in her game in the last couple of months.

After parting ways with her coach of nearly six years Piotr Sierzputowski, Swiatek teamed up this season with Tomas Wiktorowski, who spent many years working with Polish great Agnieszka Radwanska.

Since the start of 2022, Swiatek has been trying to implement a more aggressive game. For a long time, she considered herself a clay-court specialist, but she is now coming to terms with her own versatility, and is dictating play more often than not, adding speed to her shots and taking initiative in the rallies.

Fighting spirit

Another notable improvement has been her ability to turn things around during a match and recovering from tough starts. Swiatek has come back from a set down four times this season; she managed to do that just four times in her 2020 and 2021 campaigns combined.

She credits the work she has done with her psychologist Daria Abramowicz for the progress she has made in that department, which has helped her stay calm during a contest and find solutions.

“Before when I was losing I felt like my whole life is bad and like the base of my existing is suddenly destroyed because I'm losing a tennis match, you know?” said Swiatek on Sunday in Indian Wells, where she has come back from a set down against Anhelina Kalinina in her opener, as well as in her third round against Clara Tauson.

“And right now I have more distance to everything and I can see clearly".

“I'm just more calm and more confident, I would say. Confidence is a key as well. But you also have to believe with some experience; so, yeah, I feel like it's clicking right now.”

‘Wide perspective’

Swiatek’s win over Danish teenager Tauson on Sunday was a tough two-hour 18-minute affair that ended 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-1 in her favour.

The No.3 seed was pleased with how well she felt physically at the end of that tussle and spoke more of the “wide perspective” that is helping her on court these days.  

“I realised last year that tennis is pretty unpredictable and anything can happen because on some tournaments I really felt great and I was losing third round,” explained Swiatek.

“But on some tournaments, like in Rome, my first two rounds, I wasn't feeling comfortable on court and then I won the tournament. So like looking at a wide perspective, tennis is pretty unpredictable, but also on that match over these two hours like a lot can change. So I try to remember that.”

First-time meeting

Swiatek practiced with her next opponent, Angelique Kerber, ahead of the tournament in Indian Wells but the pair have never faced off in an official match.

Kerber, a former world No.1 currently ranked 16 in the world, was runner-up in the California desert to Bianca Andreescu in 2019.

The German three-time major champion made her Indian Wells debut back in 2008, while Swiatek is competing in the main draw of the event for just the second time in her young career.

Swiatek enjoys hitting with players that can engage in long tough rallies and she revealed who her favourite practice partner is on tour.

“Every tournament I would say since 2020 I was practising with Paula Badosa, so it’s almost like a tradition on every tournament we're going to play with each other,” Swiatek said, referring to the reigning Indian Wells champion.

“These are pretty tough practices because she hits a pretty fast ball, you always have to be in the right place to play tennis against her.

“They are challenging practices but also I like these kind of practices where you can just hold the rhythm and play some exercises besides playing points. There are a lot of players I like to practice with – Angelique is one of them for sure.”

With the world’s top two, Ashleigh Barty and Barbora Krejcikova, both missing Indian Wells, Swiatek is aware she has an opportunity to move up the rankings.

She acknowledges that the idea of becoming world No.1 does cross her mind, but says she doesn’t allow herself to spend too much time thinking about it.

“I'm giving myself a day after a tournament to count points, check the rankings, to see in what place I am but during the tournament, when I'm practising, I'm just focusing on tennis because if I'm going to play well, the ranking is going to come,” she told Eurosport last week.

The way she is playing and competing, Swiatek might crack the top-two sooner than she thinks.