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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Monday April 27, 2020

 
Iga Swiatek

The 18-year-old, aided by an ambitious team, is taking a well-rounded approach to development.

Photo Source: Mark Peterson/ Corleve

Before the Coronavirus carved a giant crater into the heart of the 2020 tennis season, Poland’s Iga Świątek was a rising rocket destined to become a perennial threat on the WTA Tour.

During an eye-opening transition from juniors to the pros, the 2018 Wimbledon Girls’ Singles champion produced an impressive 2019 campaign that saw her rise over 100 spots in the rankings, reach the second week at Roland Garros and make her Top 50 debut.
She took five months off due to a foot injury after the US Open 2019, then got right back on the horse in 2020, reaching the second week at the Australian Open.

Tennis Express

Świątek, one of just four WTA teenagers currently inside the Top 50, seemed to be headed for another wildly impressive season when the tour was shut down in early March, as she was preparing to make her Indian Wells main draw debut.

When Tennis Now caught up with the 18-year-old for a WhatsApp chat last week she told us that she hadn’t been able to get on court at all since travelling back to Poland from California. Not to worry. Back in Warsaw she is funneling her intensity into finishing her education and, rather than dwelling on the uncontrollable elements of an unwelcome global pandemic, she is genuinely relishing the opportunity to put all her energy into furthering her education.

She seeks balance in her life and sees the present as an opportunity to develop further, not just for a life in tennis, but for life in general.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

✨📸#bts from @wta photoshoot📸✨ #blackandwhite

A post shared by Iga Świątek (@iga.swiatek) on



“Actually I think for me it’s not that hard compared to other players because I still have school and I have something to do,” she said of her time in quarantine. “I have different goals in my life, not only regarding tennis, so right now I’m focusing on that. I’m finishing school actually next week and most of my time I’m just studying, that’s great because I’m not thinking about the whole situation and I’m not bored. I think my situation is better because of that.”

Świątek says social distancing restrictions in Poland are being lifted and, as a professional athlete, she’ll be allowed to get back on court this week to begin fine-tuning her game again. When I asked her what she thought she might want to improve in her tennis, she said she would leave that up to her coach, Piotr Sierzputowski.

“I don’t have like one specific thing,” she told me. “I want to improve in every different aspect of my game. I think my coach is going to tell me what to do.”

Sierzputowski, a 27-year-old who has guided Świątek full-time since 2016, was happy to elaborate on the subject. He’s a thoughtful, intelligent conversationalist who is a sponge when it comes to the art of coaching. He cites Toni Nadal and Piotr Wozniacki as two of his bigger influences because of the way each was able to incorporate outside voices into their coaching repertoire as they continued to evolve and make their own players better.

Sierzputowski is excited about the prospect of getting back on court with Świątek, but will be careful not to rush things. He says the team will start slowly, with three or four practices a week. They will gradually work up to speed as more becomes known about the potential start date of the WTA season.

“First of all we are going to work a little bit on her forehand,” he told Tennis Now in a phone interview last week. “Iga has a huge forehand but it’s like really mind-dependent, like if she believes in it or not, so we have to do a lot of repetition and a lot of technical, small stuff, which will give her confidence.”

Power, particularly on the forehand wing, is a big part of Świątek’s game, but she's not forced to rely on it. The Pole is really a complete package on and off the court. Świątek serves well, moves well, plays with innate touch, hits improbable angles with regularity and, perhaps most important, has the ability to elevate her game in pressure situations.

You can detect some excitement in Sierzputowski’s voice when I ask him to explain what makes his charge such a special young talent. He’s good at explaining her game in a relatable way.

“I would say Iga is a really explosive and unpredictable player, and I would call it even weird sometimes,” he says. “You never know what to expect from her and I think it’s really, really individual. You cannot say that she cannot do something. She can play anything and I think that’s what makes me really happy when I see her playing, is that she can find some crazy angles which some players never believed in, so that’s for me really important.”




Świątek is modest and humble and comes off as a genuinely kind and engaged person who has been brought up well. Her father Tomasz was an Olympic rower for Poland at the 1988 Seoul Games and he’s heavily invested in her career, but happy to back off and give his daughter’s team freedom to build and follow the collective dream together.

“He had more impact on me in the beginning when I was a kid and basically my character features that I should have as a sportsman, I have them because of his way of raising us,” Świątek says. “He always taught me how to be professional and he always taught me that my whole life is influenced by how I play, so basically the way I behave is because of how he raised us.”

Her father’s athletic success helps explain why Świątek hungers for Olympic glory. “I always said in my head that this is my goal in sports, even if in tennis it is not the biggest deal, players are usually focused on Grand Slams, but for me Olympics were always important,” she says.

Another of Świątek’s goals is to be a more mature and consistent player. She’s working diligently with her sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz to create balance in her mind and body. Abramowicz, a 33-year-old former sailor who has also worked with Poland’s national swim and cycling teams, develops learning techniques for Świątek.

Together their focus is vast, and not necessarily conventional. The conversations swerves from emotions to cognitive skills and nutrition. Abramowicz says that she has been working on line with Świątek during quarantine and adds that the absence of tournaments during the Coronavirus pandemic has enabled her to experiment and dig deeper into their work. Both seem encouraged about the relationship and the revelations they are achieving.

“You have to have a balance and that’s what we are doing,” Abramowicz told Tennis Now. “Between work and rest, between being engaged and being relaxed. So it goes to being mindful. That’s a very important field. So I think that will be the core of our work right now.”

Tennis Express

What is Abramowicz most impressed by in Świątek’s game?

One word.

“It’s unique, it’s fire,” she says. “It’s not technical I know, you can say 'obviously it’s the backhand or forehand' or stuff like that but the thing I like the most is this fire. Sometimes I do speak about managing the energy, because she’s putting a lot of it—it’s kind of a force of nature.”

Abramowicz and Świątek have collaborated for just over a year and it’s clear that they have reached the same wavelength in that short period of time. The 18-year-old is extremely dedicated to the concept of strengthening herself psychologically, and sees mentality as the key factor that helps separate the elite talents inside the WTA’s Top 50.

“I just want to do it step by step so for this year I want my game to be more mature,” Świątek says. “We worked on me being more flexible on court mentally, and I think it’s going pretty well. It’s also cool because usually psychologists are just focusing on what’s going on on the court but Daria is also working with me outside the court because as I said my whole life is influenced by how I play, and she’s helping me.”

Tennis in 2020, if it happens at all, is still a long way off, but after talking with Świątek and her team one quickly gets the sense that they are approaching the pause with the perfect plan. With the tour on hiatus, and therefore no valuable lessons to be learned from match competition, the focus is on personal growth and development; balance in many forms, and patience.

This theme of balance is taken seriously by the team and it manifests itself in several ways. Sierzputowski senses the importance of giving Świątek space. He is willing to step back and let her travel with Abramowicz to some events and he understands the importance of resisting the lure of playing too many tournaments at the expense of her mental and physical health.

Most important, Sierzputowski trusts Świątek and believes in her ability.

“She is an achiever,” he says. “She is a person who is really hungry to go farther and farther. If she is going to stay focused and consistent with what she is doing she can go much higher than she is already, because of that hunger.”

So far that hunger has helped Świątek transition from a junior stalwart to a major threat. The Pole and her team are happy to take one step at a time as they keep their eyes on the big picture. But that doesn’t mean that they are not thinking big.

“I’m not going to say that I’m dreaming—I know that Iga can win Grand Slams,” Sierzputowski says. “I don’t know when. In my plan in two three years she will achieve the top level of her abilities. I think she will be mature enough.”

With school finishing up and springtime in bloom in Poland, now comes the time to begin preparing for a future that promises to be very bright. There are no guarantees in the demanding world of women’s tennis, where the depth of field has improved spectacularly over the last two decades. The path to the top of the sport will not be easy, but thanks to a year’s worth of valuable experience on the WTA Tour, there is an air of confidence in Świątek as she contemplates the work to be done in the months to come.

“I feel confident,” she says. “I don’t think that this break is going to influence my game a lot. I think it’s good for me to stop because I want to feel that hunger.”

 

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