Every week, LastWordOnTennis will highlight a player to keep an eye on as tournaments are played around the world. This week’s selection is Iga Swiatek.
Though the Madrid Masters finished at the hands of Aryna Sabalenka only last Saturday, the tennis calendar is so tightly packed that the Italian Open has already begun. The field is stacked full of quality WTA players – we’ve rifled through the talent to handpick one to that is bound to deliver some entertaining matches.
The world #15, Iga Swiatek, is our pick for this week’s player to watch.
The woman to beat on lively clay
Swiatek is the reigning French Open champion.
During her run there, she dropped just 28 games. This is equal to four games dropped per match and is the fewest lost since Steffi Graf won the 1988 French Open (Graf lost 20 games over seven matches).
Swiatek played the Madrid Open last week, but the conditions differ greatly to those in Rome. Due to the Madrid Open venue’s high altitude, it is easier to generate power. The clay is also compacted more so than in Rome, making it less springy – this makes the tournament surface a hybrid of sorts, almost between hard and clay in its effect on the ball.
Barty defeated Swiatek in two tight sets in Madrid but she won’t be overly worried about this loss. This is arguably the first time we have seen Swiatek on a similar clay court to the one at Roland Garros since she won there last year. The Pole could easily make meaningful strides in Rome if she is feeling as confident as she did in Paris.
Killer baseline game
Swiatek’s run at the French Open showed us her game is potentially the most suitable for clay in the game.
In Paris, her forehand and backhand were the fastest of any female player, peaking at around 79mph and 76mph, respectively.
Though she has said she wouldn’t be able to emulate his game, the amount of topspin she puts on the ball is often comparable to Rafael Nadal. This is due to the extreme western grip she uses to hold her racket, allowing her to reaching over 57 rps.
Iga Swiatek in full flow at the baseline is truly a sight to behold.
Though she is only 19 years old, Swiatek is incredibly mature. She has employed a sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, on her coaching team.
Swiatek credits Abramowicz’s teachings as one of the most crucial aspects of her game.
“I just believe that mental toughness is probably the most important thing in tennis right now because everybody can play on the highest level… [Abramowicz] just makes my confidence level higher.”
It is refreshing to watch a player as young as Swiatek play with such a headstrong demeanor.
This Week’s Player To Watch
Iga Swiatek’s first opponent, Alison Riske, retired in their first-round encounter so it is difficult to say for certain that Swiatek is close to her best form. She should have a chance to settle into the swing of things against Madison Keys, who is yet to find her form this season.
Swiatek could then potentially be playing Sofia Kenin, Garbine Muguruza, Ash Barty and Simona Halep back-to-back. Kenin would be a rematch of Swiatek’s championship match at last year’s French Open. The final three have all previously won the French Open.
It was never going to be easy, but Swiatek’s week in Rome should be full of blockbuster matches. Catch her first match against Keys on Wednesday.
Main Photo from Getty.