Swiatek, Fritz realise California dream

Pole rises to No.2 in the world as American revels in home success.

Iga Swiatek / Indian Wells 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

The curtain has closed on a remarkable fortnight in Indian Wells, where Iga Swiatek and Taylor Fritz were crowned champions on the back of statement runs in the desert.

Here’s a look at the two weeks gone by in sunny California.

Iga the Unstoppable

It’s no surprise that Swiatek’s overwhelming feeling after lifting the – incredibly heavy – Indian Wells Baccarat trophy on Sunday was a great sense of pride.

The 20-year-old overcame tricky windy conditions and a formidable opponent in Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-1 in the final to pick up a second consecutive WTA 1000 title and extend her winning streak to a career-best 11 matches in a row.

Swiatek leads the tour with 20 match-wins to her name this season – against just three losses – and is the first woman since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009 to clinch five or more titles before turning 21.

As a result, Swiatek on Monday has risen to a career-high No.2 in the world, tying Agnieszka Radwanska as the highest-ranked Polish player in tennis history.

Swiatek certainly has plenty to be proud of.

“It's pretty surreal for now. I have to look at it and I have to check the rankings by myself and, I don't know, just see it,” Swiatek told reporters in Indian Wells about reaching the No.2 spot.

“Right now it's too surreal to describe it, honestly. But for sure I want to go higher because I feel like getting the No.1 is closer and closer.”

Swiatek, who has lots of admiration for current world No.1 and fellow Roland-Garros champion Ashleigh Barty, is excited about the prospect of battling with the Australian over the top ranking, describing her as “one of the most complete players on tour” and someone “I want to look at”.

The young Pole’s triumph on Parisian clay in October 2020 was the first of five career title victories – all won in the span of 18 months – and she now heads to Miami looking to maintain her undefeated record in WTA 1000 tournaments this season.

“That's the first time I'm in a position where I won two tournaments in a row, so it's all new,” said Swiatek, who reigned supreme in Doha just three weeks prior to her Indian Wells success.

“I think it's getting easier for me to just focus on playing and not think about the stats. For sure it's giving me a lot of confidence.”

Swiatek admits she felt the pressure rising towards the tail-end of the Indian Wells tournament is pleased with how well she rose to the occasion.

“Last couple of days have been really stressful for me. That's another reason why I'm proud of myself that I made it,” she added.

Emotional Fritz breaks new ground

Taylor Fritz was in a state of complete disbelief when he shocked Rafael Nadal in the Indian Wells final on Sunday that all he could do was scribble a bunch of question marks on the camera lens upon victory.

The 24-year-old snapped Nadal’s 20-match winning streak and became the first player to defeat the Spaniard this season, thanks to a 6-3, 7-6(5) result.

He is the first American to grab the Indian Wells title since Andre Agassi and Serena Williams achieved the feat in 2001 and officially became the top-ranked American on Monday, rising to a career-high No.13 in the world.

Taylor Fritz & Rafael Nadal / Indian Wells 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

But what made the victory all the more special for Fritz was that his maiden Masters 1000 title came at what is essentially his home tournament – a place he has visited since he was a kid, making the two-hour drive from Rancho Santa Fe with his dad to watch his tennis heroes in action.

Add to that the fact that Fritz almost pulled out ahead of the final due to an ankle injury he picked up in the semis the day before and you understand why his first immediate reaction to his victory was mouthing “No way” over and over again towards his box in the stadium.

“I can't believe it's real. I signed the camera, I just put question marks. Stunned. Couldn't even believe it,” Fritz told reporters after the final.

“Seriously, this is seriously like a childhood dream come true, like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen. It really hasn't even sunk in.”

Fritz had to cut his warm-up short on Sunday because of how much pain he felt in his ankle. His entire team advised him against competing in the final but after lots of work with physios and doctors, Fritz decided he didn’t want to leave the California desert with any regrets and opted to take the court against 21-major champion Nadal.

“I think to do it against Rafa in the end, that's like the icing on the cake,” said Fritz, who is the youngest men’s singles champion at Indian Wells since Novak Djokovic in 2011. “It's just insane. Someone that I watched like dominate, win everything. It's insane to even be on the same court with these people, much less be able to beat one of them.”

Fritz admits he only recently started to realise his potential to win a big title like this, and it was his semi-final run at Indian Wells from last autumn that actually bolstered his belief.

“My dad brought me here as a kid. He told me that I was going to win this tournament one day when I was a little kid. It was pretty tough not being emotional with my parents, especially my dad. He was just really, really proud of me. It's really tough to get a compliment out of him,” Fritz revealed with a smile.

The first American to win an ATP Masters 1000 trophy since John Isner in 2018, Fritz now has his sights firmly set on the top 10.

“Obviously I'd love to go way higher than that and achieve way more than that. Like I said, take it one step at a time, not get ahead of myself, it's just one tournament. Go back to work, never be satisfied with the good results. Just keep wanting more,” he added.

Painful end to incredible run

Nadal confessed that he would have loved to head to the clay season with an unblemished record under his belt but the Spaniard fell just short, succumbing to Fritz and a mysterious rib or abdominal problem that hampered his breathing during the final.

After enjoying the best season start of his career, clinching 20 consecutive match-wins that included title runs at the Melbourne Summer Set event, the Australian Open and Acapulco, and a final appearance in Indian Wells, Nadal will skip Miami and hope to recover his body before kicking off his clay campaign in Monte Carlo next month.

“Honestly, I wanted to make it perfect before clay, no? Have been very, very, very beautiful. Honestly I am sad because the way I was not able to compete. Is tough to have these feelings, especially every day, but in the final is very, very ugly, no?” said the 35-year-old Nadal, who is back at No.3 in the world rankings.

“But, yeah, in sport is not about talking of the past. We need to talk about today. And today is a difficult day for me.”

Positive gains for Sakkari

Despite stumbling at the final hurdle, Maria Sakkari walks away from Indian Wells with lots of positives, as she ties Stefanos Tsitsipas as the highest-ranked Greek tennis players in history, rising to No.3 in the world.

Sakkari, who has made the semi-finals or better in her last three tournaments, enjoyed a strong week in the California desert, knocking out the likes of Petra Kvitova and ending the title defence of Paula Badosa, before falling to Swiatek for a second consecutive event.

“I really believe I took a step forward this week, even though I lost today,” said Sakkari.

“It was a week that will have a special place in my heart. I know it sounds kind of weird because I did not win the tournament, but I felt like I improved as a player this week. I'm just going to take that with me and move forward.”

Memorable performances

It was an action-packed fortnight that saw many players step up to the plate and leave lasting impressions.

Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz enjoyed his best run to date at this level by reaching the semi-finals and pushed Nadal to his limits before surrendering.

His reward is a career-high No.16 ranking as he further cements himself as arguably the most promising youngster on tour.

Badosa handled her title defence with tremendous poise, advancing to the semi-finals before losing to Sakkari. Her consistent progress over the past 11 months continues to inspire.

Britain’s Harriet Dart made it through qualifying all the way to the fourth round and has entered the top 100 for the first time as a result, while Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic put together one battling performance after the other en route to the quarter-finals.

Andrey Rublev fell two wins short of making it three titles in a row as the Russian’s 13-match winning streak came to an end in the semis at the hands of Fritz.