Polish tennis sensation reveals all ahead of the US Open tournament in New York.
Polish teenager Iga Świątek is fast making a name for herself on the WTA Tour with the promising right-hander from Warsaw looking to go deep at the 2020 US Open in New York when the tournament starts on August 31.
After winning the 2018 French Open as a junior, the current world number 51 reached the fourth round at the Australian Open earlier this year and will look to impress again on the hardcourt at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
Here is what the 19-year-old had to say ahead of the Grand Slam – the first since Melbourne in January:
Half a year of waiting, that’s quite a long time. Have you missed tennis?
For sure! I’m already in New York and I have to say that I immediately feel different. Over the summer I’ve played a few exhibition games in Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but that’s not the same. It’s a different level of stress and excitement. Plus it was great to fly again, go somewhere further away, we’re used to it since our whole life is about constant travelling. I’ve missed that quite a bit over the last six months.
You say, „a different level of stress“. How do you cope with that?
The best you can do is to get on the court and do your job, it’s a proven way to relieve the stress. It’s different outside the court, obviously, because I finally feel that serious competition is returning. I did my best to prepare, but only the first few matches will show how it is in practice. I’ll have to get used to playing seriously again.
Have the USTA authorities risen to the task in these difficult times?
The organisation is impeccable. Up until now, everything works fine and we feel safe. Both tournaments – the postponed Cincinnati Western & Southern Open and the US Open – are held on the same courts at Flushing Meadows. That means that we’ll be staying at one place for four weeks. We are kept in a ‚bubble‘, the whole tennis community – athletes, coaches and staff – live in closed hotels, from where we can only go to the courts and back. The hotels are rented out exclusively to the American federation, USTA. The courts were specially prepared to ensure that the athletes maintain the right distance, while the gaps between the tables in the canteen are way over two metres. Besides that, there’s absolutely no audience in the venue, which also changes the perspective. Crowded squares are empty, so we have more options to sit down and rest for a moment. We are impressed that it was even possible to organise everything so well for that many people.
Will you get bored at the hotel for four weeks?
The organisers took care of that as well. There’s an extensive rest and entertainment zone with ping pong tables and arcade games – there’s even a virtual golf course. You can get lost there for an hour and won’t even notice. Another convenience is an athletic recovery centre, usually available only at courts, but now moved to the hotel. We have everything at our disposal.
How many people did you take to the US Open?
I was able to take my whole team, including my coach (Piotr Sierzputowski), sport psychologist (Daria Abramowicz) and physical preparation coach (Maciej Ryszczuk). The limit for each person was three people. That’s exactly the same team I’d normally take to the Grand Slam, so I’m in a comfortable situation. Regulations at the courts are stricter – only the main coach can access the changing rooms and athletes‘ lounge. The remaining team members must stay further away.
In Prague, you defeated No. 3 ranked Karolína Plíšková from the Czech Republic, who will be the top seed at the US Open. Can such a win, even in a friendly game, provide a boost of confidence and an important lesson?
For me, it was mainly a confirmation that I worked hard over the preparation period. I was efficient at the court and I achieved my goal. It felt like a high-stake game and a good warm-up before returning to the WTA Tour and the Grand Slams but, let’s not forget that, preparation matches don’t reveal everything – for example, we don’t know at what stage of her preparations for the season Karolina was at that time.
During one of the other games in Prague – against Denisa Hindova, you played an amazing shot the fans were buzzing about on the internet. Have you really spent two years practicing that trick shot smash?
More or less (laughs). Coach Piotr gives me a lot of freedom during training sessions, so we practice different trick shots. Partially for fun, and partially to add variety to the training. It was time to finally present something from that repertoire, but this is not my last word! I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Make sure to follow my matches.
As many as seven players from the WTA Tour top 10 will miss the US Open. Do you consider it your chance for a good result?
It sure is a chance for the younger underdogs, who so far have just been lurking behind the backs of the top-ranked players but it doesn’t change anything for me – I’m 100 per cent committed at every tournament and fully focused on every game. We’ll see where that gets me.
The US Open is a Grand Slam on a hard concrete surface and, in theory, that’s not your favourite scenario…
I’ve spent the whole preparation period on hardcourt. I feel ready. I can’t analyse my own tennis in terms of surface, because on the court I play against my opponent and not the surface. Each opponent is different and has a different style. If there’s one thing characteristic for the hard court, it is chasing a ball and playing at high speed.
This Grand Slam will be different for many reasons, but one of them will be especially noticeable – the lack of audience and cheering. Will that help or bother you?
Empty courts will definitely help us concentrate, as in normal conditions at a Grand Slam it can be constant chaos. We lose quite a lot of energy even before we enter the court. On the other hand, there’s no denying that I’m the type of player who feeds off the energy of the crowd but, no worries, I can play with empty stands as well. Not that long ago, I was still playing at junior tournaments where no one watches the games.
Finally, what’s been on your music playlist recently? Still, Jimi Hendrix?
For now, yes (laughs). I haven’t discovered anything new in America yet but there’s still time, so we’ll see – maybe I’ll come across something catchy. I’ll let you know!