'Unstoppable' Iga up for the challenge

 - Chris Oddo

World No.1 confident she can handle pressure of favourite tag

Iga Swiatek, Roland Garros 2022, practice© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Riding a 28-match winning streak, Iga Swiatek will play a Grand Slam as the WTA’s top-ranked player for the first time next week in Paris.

A juggernaut since February, the world No.1 has been utterly dominant through her last five events, leaving top challengers at a loss when it comes to figuring out ways to solve her pulsating game. 

“So they asked me how to beat you,” Ons Jabeur told Swiatek during a spontaneous press conference moment on Friday in Paris, the two Rome finalists crossing paths as the Pole returned to the interview room to retrieve her water bottle. “Can you answer them? I couldn’t find an answer – obviously the drop shot didn’t work.” 

Even 13-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal marvels at Swiatek’s ability to conquer all comers this season. 

“She's winning very easy,” he said. “That's special and very difficult. I saw her play a couple of matches and it seems like today she's over the rest.

"That's what the results say, because when somebody like her is winning the tournaments and is winning with these results, I mean, is something special, no? 

“The way that she's playing this year looks unstoppable.” 

Naomi Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who has previously held the No.1 ranking for 25 weeks, is also blown away by what Swiatek has achieved this season. The Pole is even haunting Osaka's dreams.

“I had a dream a couple days ago that the draw came out, and I had to play Iga," Osaka told the media on Friday in Paris. "Like for me, I was scared because I was thinking, like what's the worst possible player to play when I'm unseeded? She came in my mind, so thank God that didn't happen,” added the Japanese star, who opens against Amanda Anisimova.

Taking it all in stride

The soon to be 21-year-old, who will face Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in the first round, is handling the pressure and expectations that come with her elevated status like a seasoned veteran. 

“I have really positive thoughts,” Swiatek said on Friday, when asked how she manages to navigate the tricky terrain of being the odds-on favourite at Roland-Garros.

“Honestly, a couple of times during all these tournaments I was already stressed about that, and I was able to work through it and do a really good job by just focusing on tennis.

"So hopefully I'm going to be able to continue that.”

Swiatek accepts that her reality has morphed dramatically since 2020, when she became the youngest women's champion in Paris since 1992. At the time she was a bright-eyed teenager, eager to make an impression on the circuit. 

This spring, in the wake of Ashleigh Barty’s sudden retirement from the sport, Swiatek eased into her new role as the WTA's leading figure, and let her racquet do the talking: she is now the premier force in women’s tennis, albeit a humble one.

“So the world has changed, for sure,” she said. “But I feel like I'm staying the same player and the same person. Still I feel like there is a lot to improve, so I think these are the main keys. This is my base that I'm leaning on.”