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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday December 15, 2020

Piotr Sierzputowski and Team Iga Swiatek

2020 WTA Coach of the Year Piotr Sierzputowski reflects on a banner year as Iga Swiatek's coach.

Photo Source: FFT

Piotr Sierzputowski is a humble, no-nonsense coach, and when it comes to his work with 2020 Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek, he's more about continuing on a path of steady improvement than receiving praise for what's in the past. Asked how he felt to be named the WTA’s coach of the year in 2020 last week, he reacted like someone who has a bigger mission in mind.

“Normal,” he answers. “I don’t feel any difference so I hope it’s how it is supposed to be.”

Tennis Express

Based on what we witnessed in Paris in October, Swiatek standing tall on the Grand Slam podium could become tennis’ new normal. You don’t power through a Roland-Garros draw without dropping a set, or become the tournament’s youngest women’s singles champion in 28 years, if you’re not cut out for winning big titles.

Also Read: Swiatek's Development Continues, Even With Tour on Hold

But Sierzputowski, like Swiatek, sees the breathtaking run in Paris more as reality than a dream. The triumph is proof that Swiatek has what it takes to be the best—now it is up to the coach and the rest of the team to see that everything keeps moving in the same direction.

"It's a little bit out of the plan,” the 28-year-old says of Swiatek’s maiden Slam title. “Nobody expected this level of success at this stage, but it was our goal. So we still have the same goals, we know it will take a while for her to get used to playing at this level but right now I think she took a great short cut, like a few years early.

“If she is going to stay healthy and her mentality is going to be great than she can do this for the long term and she can play like that for many tournaments a year, so I hope it's going to happen, my job right now is to keep working with her on the technical, the tactical and all the stuff around tennis and she has to do the rest.”

To hear Sierzputowski say that it will take a while for Swiatek to get used to playing at “this level” means that the team is planning on plenty of repeat performances. That’s the goal, at least. It’s a daunting challenge but one that is collectively embraced.

Sierzputowski is thankful that Swiatek has learned how potent her game can be when she is flying on all cylinders. That realization will encourage her to dare even more, to conquer her fears and push the envelope further.

“Right now she understands the difference between being tight and being loose,” Sierzputowski says. “Of course everybody understands it, but right now she knows where her level is, where she plays, like with the free mind, so this is really important for me and I think this is the most important part of the tournament, that's why I am happy because she can right now practice even better than she was before.”

Sierzputowski is also thankful that he has Daria Abramowicz, Swiatek’s sports psychologist, embedded in the team. He told me that Abramowicz can serve as a bridge between coach and player, and sometimes even player, parent and coach.

We learned at Roland-Garros that Swiatek had a difficult time in the United States this summer. She set high expectations for herself and was extremely disappointed when things didn’t go as planned. A few poor matches always threaten to break down the confidence, and Sierzputowski says at times like this it is crucial to have the support of the family as well as the support of the team.

"For me I think the biggest support at this time, after the US Open, was Iga's father (Tomasz, a former Olympic rower),” he said. “He gave her so much support, she didn't expect it. She lost a few matches which she shouldn't have in New York. She didn't perform well, and it's always difficult for parents. But when she came home he gave her a lot of space, a lot of good conversations, a lot of space to talk with us, with everybody on the team, to understand it, to find a way to improve it, to find a solution for it."

It was Abramowicz that helped open the door to introspection in this case.

“I'm really thankful to Daria because she prepared the relation between Iga and father to have these kind of conversations but it's not Daria or it's not me or it's not Maciej (Ryszczuk, the team’s physio) to take the steps. They have to do this and it was really, for me, really great that Iga had a lot of space, she could talk with us, she could argue with us. Everything was set up to just compete.”

Sierzputowski says that having Abramowicz travel with the team and experience the day-in, day-out struggles of the tour has helped everybody streamline their efforts. He told me he has seen sports psychologists perform their work from the outside, interacting with the player in one-on-one sessions, but Abramowicz is a fully integrated and invested team member and that makes a big difference.

“It's not about tennis,” Sierzputowski says. “For me Daria was important for me to help Iga to find solutions in her life, not in tennis. Because I know that she can perform well, as I said, because that's my job to do, and if everything around is on the spot and working well, then you can go and perform your 100 percent. If not it's difficult to struggle in your private life and playing well—I know that it can happen in the short term, but I never heard of it in the long term."

Abramowicz’ approach is unique, and that is what sets her work apart, says Sierzputowski.

“She is putting a lot of effort not only as a psychologist but as a human,” he says. “As a friend, as a partner, as somebody who is helping, who is a teammate. She's part of the team. For me I know that in tennis people are not talking about psychologists. I know that players are working with psychologists, but most of the time it's not working as part of the team, it's somebody who is outside and trying to help. Here it's totally different because Daria is inside and she is helping on the spot.

"It's much easier for her to understand the needs of both sides. She's somebody who is a bridge."

Coaching Swiatek on the X’s and O’s and technical aspects of the sport is a big part of his job, but Sierzputowski also excels as an organizational leader. He has spent over four years developing Team Swiatek with a keen eye for what could help her achieve success. Maciej Ryszczuk, who began working as Swiatek’s physio and strength and conditioning coach this summer, is a prime example. It takes a village to make history, and Ryszczuk’s contribution to the team was crucial in Paris, says Sierzputowski.

“He's fresh on the team but he put a lot of good attitude into the team, which was really important,” he says. “He's really flexible and he really understands what players need, what the athletes need.”

When it comes to recovery, Ryszczuk is a whiz.

“Everybody is talking about it but not a lot of coaches are focusing on it, but even if they do it's behind the scenes,” says Sierzputowski. “It's not sharing, because what you share on Instagram or Facebook, you show exercise, how you work, but you're not showing how you rest. But it's extremely important and I think that is Maciej's biggest contribution to our team."

With 2021 fast approaching, the time will soon come for Swiatek to try to reproduce her Paris form. Sierzputowski knows it will be a process, not much different than the past few years. He sees a promising future and believes that Swiatek can continue to grow as a player, developing more trust in her forehand and net play as she seeks to deliver a worthy encore to a smashing 2020.

“There is still a lot of room for improvement,” Sierzputowski says. "I'm happy about this tournament not because she won because everybody is happy when somebody is winning, it's our job and everybody loves to win, but I'm happy because I think she opened some doors which will help her in the future to play better.”


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