Vaulting to Greatness

In January, after Iga Świątek overcame a pretty uneven day to beat Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, I wrote that being able to win with a B or C level was a great sign for her. The game she tore through Roland-Garros with in 2020 was astonishingly good, but god-mode tennis can’t be produced at will. In a way, winning on a bad day is more encouraging than winning on a great one, and though Świątek had a successful 2021, she didn’t win ugly that often. The win over Kanepi seemed like a very positive turning point.

Oh, and we were treated to this brain-melting match point.

Ironically, though, Świątek hasn’t need to play many more matches like the Australian Open scrap against Kanepi. Her best level is back and out in force — she’s riding an insane 27-match winning streak. Most of these wins have been in straight sets. A recent habit she’s picked up is absorbing an opponent’s best level for a set, winning it anyway, then absolutely stomping them into the pavement in the second. Just ask Bianca Andreescu. Świątek’s level of play at Roland-Garros in 2020 never seemed like an anomaly, but it was undeniably better than she played for almost all of 2021. Yet now, in practically no time, it has started to feel like the norm.

This is Świątek after winning the first set against Andreescu, which was a really high-quality, attritional hour of tennis. Just a brief racket shake, a quick yell, and a purposeful march to her chair. Business as usual. Screenshot: WTA

Świątek is reaching the level of dominance that makes you genuinely question what it will take to beat her. A little while ago, she looked to be fatiguing (though she won Stuttgart anyway), but she made the smart call to skip Madrid and is now storming through Rome fully rested. Naomi Osaka had a crack at Świątek on hard courts (Osaka’s favorite surface) in the Miami final, but could only win four games. Osaka can undoubtedly improve from the level she displayed in that match, but she tends to struggle on clay and grass, so likely won’t be a threat to Świątek for at least a couple months. Jelena Ostapenko, the last player to beat Świątek, is notoriously inconsistent. Danielle Collins, the next-to-last player to beat her, has suffered through injuries and a loss of form since the Australian Open. Andreescu destroyed Collins 6-1, 6-1 shortly before meeting her own lopsided end at Świątek’s hands. There is no apparent rival for the young Pole at the moment.

Behold, in all its glory, Świątek’s 27-match winning streak and the shockingly low number of games she’s conceded:

OpponentGames lost
Viktorija Golubic10
Daria Kasatkina3
Aryna Sabalenka5
Maria Sakkari7
Anett Kontaveit (Doha final)2
Anhelina Kalinina8
Clara Tauson10
Angelique Kerber11
Madison Keys1
Simona Halep10
Maria Sakkari (Indian Wells final)5
Viktorija Golubic (Świątek sealed the #1 ranking with this win, and has not relinquished it since)2
Madison Brengle3
Coco Gauff4
Petra Kvitová6
Jessica Pegula7
Naomi Osaka (Miami final)4
Mihaela Buzărnescu1
Andreea Prisăcariu0
Eva Lys2
Emma Raducanu8
Ludmilla Samsonova16
Aryna Sabalenka (Stuttgart final)4
Elena-Gabriela Ruse3
Victoria Azarenka5
Bianca Andreescu6
Aryna Sabalenka3

Some brief thoughts:

  • Poor Aryna Sabalenka has played Świątek three times during the Pole’s rampage, winning five, four, and three games, respectively. She is currently ranked 8th in the world. This is brutal. (Also, if this trend holds up, within a few more meetings, she will be handed a double bagel.)
  • The outlier in this table is the match against Ludmilla Samsonova, which was extremely close. Struggling with fatigue, Świątek had to squeak across the line, 7-5 in the third. Many picked Sabalenka to win the final the following day; Świątek won 6-2, 6-2.
  • Since the start of this streak, she has lost an average of 5.4 games per match. This is thumping dominance.

Tomorrow, Świątek takes on Ons Jabeur in the Rome final. She’s a solid favorite, what with her world #1 ranking, four consecutive tournament wins, and 27-match winning streak (though Jabeur is playing some fantastic tennis of her own, having won her last 11 matches). Regardless, Świątek has little to lose: if Jabeur does manage to topple her, Świątek might well use the loss as extra motivation ahead of Roland-Garros. Her tennis has been so supreme — smothering movement, heavy forehands and backhands, the ability to miss infrequently even when she aims close to the lines, rally tolerance, serving that is difficult to attack — that it’s hard to imagine someone taking out a strong version of her.

Świątek is already reaching historic levels of dominance. We’re seeing stats like this, and she’s only 20. Tennis being the brutal sport that it is, even winning streaks bring challenges with them — winning more means playing more, for instance, increasing the odds of injury — but Świątek looks set to have a truly monumental career. It’s insane to think that a mere three and a half months ago, she had just struggled mightily through a match against Kanepi only to get crushed by Collins one match later. Świątek has put the entire puzzle together in an astonishingly short time, and the potential seems limitless for the years of her career that stretch out ahead.

Published by Owen

Owen has been a tennis fan since Roland-Garros in 2016. Initially a Federer fan, his preferences evened out the more tennis he watched and the more he learned. He started a blog (https://racketblog.com/) in early 2019. In the summer of 2021, he got a media credential at the ATP 250 event in Newport, Rhode Island, and got to talk to a few players, including former world No. 5 Kevin Anderson and rising star Jenson Brooksby. Owen will argue to the death that the 2009 Australian Open semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco is the greatest match ever, he hates that one-handed backhands are praised so often for their subjective elegance (sucking praise away from the more effective two-handers), and he thinks the best part of tennis is its scoring system, the mental and physical challenge not far behind. You can follow him on Twitter @tennisnation.

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