It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago, Iga Swiatek was a relative unknown in women’s tennis. Then, a seismic run to the French Open title propelled her into the public eye, and since then she has been one of the leading players in the game, and the youngster is now regarded as one of the game’s brightest talents, ready to win multiple Grand Slams as her career goes on.
The problem with winning a major title at such a young age — she was 19 when she won at Roland Garros last year — is that expectations are high in every tournament, and it takes time to mature as a player. Swiatek’s French Open title defence faltered at the quarter-final stage, where Greek player Maria Sakkari proved too strong and defeated the Pole in straight sets. It was always a big ask for Swiatek to defend her title, and she can be proud of the way she stood up to the pressure for most of the tournament.
She has the kind of game that is perfectly suited to modern tennis. A fast serve, powerful groundstrokes and comfort around the net are what make her such a dangerous opponent, as everyone found out at last year’s French Open, where she defeated then world number one Simona Halep in the fourth round before overcoming fourth seed Sofia Kenin in the final.
After that triumph, many of tennis’ stars were quick to congratulate Swiatek and declare that this was the first of many Grand Slam titles to come, but now the 20-year-old is in the difficult position of having to back up that tremendous success. Winning any Grand Slam is extremely challenging, and the fact that the women’s game is so open at the moment in terms of champions makes it even harder, as you simply never know where the next major winner is coming from.
It was arguably that pressure that told in the end, and brought Swiatek’s French Open campaign to a close. She put up a decent fight, but it was hard to resist the feeling that her time had come and gone, that this year it is someone else’s turn to light up Roland Garros.
The next challenge for Swiatek is to earn a victory at one of the sport’s other Grand Slam events, and with Wimbledon approaching fast on the coattails of the French Open, Swiatek will be among the favourites on the bet exchange. With the event being cancelled last year, the Pole has made just one appearance at Wimbledon, which resulted in a first-round exit at the hands of Viktorija Golubic two years ago.
Swiatek is a better, more well-rounded player now than she was then, and you’d expect her to cope better with the grass courts of Wimbledon a bit better now. Going straight from the clay-court season, where methodic, defensive play is the order of the day, to the zippy grass courts where serves come hurtling at you with immense speed, isn’t easy, but the experience Swiatek now has will stand her in good stead.
There are no guarantees in sport, and if Swiatek wants to live up to all the predictions that she will be one of the leading lights in the game for years to come, the only option is to go out and grasp the opportunities with both hands. In a decade’s time, we may look back at her 2020 French Open triumph as the start of something special.