WTA Finals: Supreme Swiatek regains her crown

The pole capped another stellar season in style with a maiden WTA Finals triumph.

Iga Swiatek / WTA Finals Cancun 2023©Cameraworkusa
 - Alex Sharp

Simply unstoppable.

Set in Cancun, Mexico, the stars of the show were the world's very best, but Iga Swiatek emerged as the true showstopper.

1GA back on top

The 22-year-old returned to the world No.1 ranking with an emphatic 6-1, 6-0 scoreline over Jessica Pegula in the WTA Finals championship match on Monday.

Just two months off her perch, Swiatek ensured she'll hold the year-end No.1 ranking for the second successive season.

"Coming back to world number one, it's a dream come true," said Swiatek.

"I would say I wasn't expecting that right now, this season. I was hoping that maybe next year is gonna be my year, but it seems like just working hard and focusing on the right things at the end worked.

"Adrenaline for sure is high, I'm just really happy and super proud of myself. This week has been not easy, but I feel like it's a kind of a reflection of the whole season. So, I'm just happy that I could cope with everything well, and I kind of used my experience from all these years to perform well here."

A maiden WTA Finals triumph, a 17th career title toasted a sublime end to the 2023 campaign.

In September, Aryna Sabalenka stole away the top spot after the US Open. Since falling in the Last 16 in New York, Swiatek has recalibrated and claimed 12 of her past 13 matches to reassert her dominance on the Tour.

The Roland-Garros champion put on a masterclass in Mexico, toppling three reigning Grand Slam winners in straight sets. She swept aside Australian Open champion Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2, Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova 7-6(3), 6-0 and US Open champion Coco Gauff 6-0, 7-5. In fact, Swiatek won every set she played in Cancun.

The scoreboards over such high-calibre opponents tell you everything, this was the most dominant run to the WTA Finals trophy lift since the round-robin format was reintroduced in 2003. Serena Williams only conceded 32 games to rule in 2012, Swiatek obliterated that record by surrendering just 20 games across the five matches.

A shift in mentality enabled Swiatek deal with the world No.1 hunt and to recapture her conviction on court. That steely look, the head down march between points, the mind-boggling redirection, it was all back.

"I would say it's (the No.1 ranking) played a lot at the US Open and tournaments before. But I kind of learned my lesson and this time I didn't want it to have an impact on me," revealed the Pole.

"It's hard not to think about stuff like that, but actually, when I went on court (in Mexico), I knew that I had to focus on different things. The conditions here that were kind of tricky, also helped me to just focus on my footwork, my shots, and that just kept me busy from thinking about all of that."

"I think today was like a highlight of this, mentally just being narrow with your head, only thinking about the right stuff."

Backing up '22

Last season Swiatek re-wrote the history books, she compiled a century-best 37 straight wins and was the clear world No.1.

With the likes of Sabalenka and Gauff making major breakthroughs, there was a perception Swiatek wasn't quite as dominant in 2023.

Well, the Pole actually won 68 matches, one more than THAT 2022 season, which is the most since Serena claimed 79 victories in 2013.

"2022 was so amazing that I don't know if it's gonna be possible for me to repeat a season like that," added Swiatek. "I just didn't feel at the end like I'm in the shadow anymore because I knew that I'm having another great season.

"So for sure, since Beijing, I started feeling a little bit more free because I just kind of, I really worked on not really focusing on last year and just pushing forward."

Underlying Swiatek's dominance across the 11 months, she became the first player to secure 20 6-0 sets in consecutive seasons since Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in 1991-92. Swiatek loves her mathematics and would enjoy this symmetry – in 2022 she posted 22 'bagel' sets, in 2023 the Pole accumulated 23 6-0 sets.

Pegula, rounding off another ultra-consistent campaign in Cancun, was as expected gracious in defeat and sprinkled in her sense of humour on Instagram stories.

"Ended the year through the Iga bakery factory lol."

Over to the American to astutely summarise why Swiatek is still No.1.

"She's been, in my mind, the one to beat the last couple years. She's showing that even when she loses some matches or doesn't win the tournament, that she's still bouncing right back and is playing at a high level every single week," said Pegula.

"That's what a top player does, is what a champion does, and I think she showed that."

Can Pegula and the rest of the chasing pack catch Swiatek in 2024?