Step 1: Storm to the Roland Garros title as an unseeded 19-year-old, becoming the youngest player to win in Paris in nearly three decades.
Step 2: Follow it up with consistent success on tour, becoming the only WTA player to make the second week at all four majors in 2021.
Step 3: Find a new coach?
Strange, but true.
Many were stunned when Iga Swiatek parted ways with longtime coach Piotr Sierzputowski prior to the end of 2021, joining forces with Tomasz Wiktorowski, the former coach of Polish legend Agnieszka Radwanska. But the unexpected wrinkle was made with evolution in mind, and Swiatek’s results on court demonstrate that the choice was right for her.
The 20-year-old World No. 4 has exploded out of the gates in 2022, with an Australian Open semifinal and the Doha title under her belt. The numbers tell the story of an athlete shifting into a higher gear.
Wiktorowksi’s influence has been a helpful one for Swiatek. He’s encouraged her to embrace the attacking mindset and the Pole has been a far more assertive player in 2022.
“He’s keeping it pretty simple,” Swiatek said of her tactics after her third-round victory over Clara Tauson. “Our goal this season is for me to focus more on my game. Because, as I was talking in previous interviews, I tend to kind of adjust to what my opponent was playing in previous seasons and right now I feel like I have skills to actually be more productive and play my game.”
The decision to hire Wiktorowski is a testament to the ambition of Swiatek’s team, which also features sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz and strength and conditioning coach/ physiotherapist Maciej Ryszczuk. In the high-stakes world of professional tennis it is so tempting to run with what has worked in the past. When you have won a Grand Slam title as a teenager and defended your top-10 ranking the following season, what is the impetus to change?
Swiatek and Co. chose the more difficult, but potentially more rewarding path. So far, so good.
How does Iga 2.0 differ from the previous version? One word: aggression.
“It’s not a complicated thing,” Swiatek told WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen last month after locking down her fourth career title in Doha. “I was working pretty hard on my attack formations. I always felt that I’m really good at defense and I want to be as good and feel really comfortable as well when I’m going forward. So it’s pretty easy, but at the end it’s up to the details, you know?”
A gifted athlete that is known for hitting a booming topspin forehand that can drive opponents to the back wall, Swiatek has always had a diverse skill set. Her decision to focus more on aggression doesn’t mean she can’t use her vast arsenal, it simply means that she can use her tools behind a more streamlined set of tactics.
Prevail and Adjust – Two New Keywords
It’s not just aggression that has helped Swiatek to a commanding start in 2022. Her newfound poise under pressure is also a factor.
Swiatek has won from a set down four times in 2022 – as many times as she did in all of 2020 and 2021. For the Pole, “prevail” has been a prevailing theme.
“I would say that we have two key words for this season, and one is to prevail, this is something that I want her to improve on court and to implement on court, this mindset is based on trying to prevail, every single point,” her sports psychologist told the tournament.
Abramowicz, 34, is the secret weapon of Swiatek’s team. Organized, communicative and emotionally intelligent, she has Swiatek’s development, both on the court and off, in mind.
“The other word is to adjust,” she continues. “She’s a perfectionist so basically it’s a little more challenging for people built like that but I do think that it’s paying off for now. My mentality is that every single day we have something that she might adjust to, and it’s fine, she’s 20 — 21 soon — so basically in terms of experience and maturity, especially life-wise, not only tennis-wise, she’s still at the beginning of the road, so we have time.”
Swiatek explains that this season, when her back is against the wall, she is more lucid on the court.
“Usually I’m pretty emotional so when you have all these emotions coming you kind of feel like your view is not clear,” she said. “But right now it is much, much clearer for me. Before when I was losing I felt like my whole life is bad and like the base of my existence was suddenly destroyed, because I’m losing a tennis match, you know?”
With each lesson Swiatek devours, she becomes a more steady force. In an age of inconsistency on tour, the Pole appears to be the model of the opposite.
“I think my work that I’ve been doing with Daria is clicking, basically, and mentally I feel that I have more skills right now to just stay calm and think about solutions,” she said on Sunday after reaching the round of 16. “Before, I struggled with emotions a little bit and sometimes I wasn’t choosing the right path.”
Swiatek and her team are charting a unique path to the top of the game, turning over every rock along the way – and she’s taking matters into her own hands like never before.
“Right now I have more distance from everything and I can see clearly. Basically, I’m just more calm and more confident, I would say. Confidence is a key as well. But you also have to believe with some experience, I feel like it’s clicking right now.”