Being numero uno, numerically, does not mean you are in pole position to win the season’s first Grand Slam at the Australian Open, starting January 16. Well, this Pole, Iga Swiatek certainly is bound to feel the heat in Melbourne as she heads in as top seed and will want to win her fourth Grand Slam title.
If 2022 was like a whiff of fresh air for Iga and the tennis fraternity, the Australian Open will certainly be a surface she may like to play her hard brand of tennis on. For someone with incredible results last year, where various streaks saw her soar on the charts, she is odds on favorite. Her performance last year at the AO was ordinary if you go by the results she produced in the clay season.
When her 37-match winning streak ended last year, when she had eclipsed Swiss Miss Martina Hingis, as she was known then, it was fab. None thought Iga would soar like an eagle, high, into the clouds. Then came the thud, when her streak snapped before the grass-court season. Last year, at AO, Iga had lost to Danielle Collins and to Alize Cornet at Wimbledon.
She would like to remind herself of what she won in 2022, two Majors, with the win against Ons Jabeur on the more fast-paced US Open hard courts catching the eye. Anyone who has seen Iga in motion will marvel, she is a great piece of work, something like the classics which a great painter produces on the canvas using paint, weasel, and the brush.
Iga Swiatek produced masterpieces herself, though in the 2023 season, she will be under more pressure. She has come in for fulsome praise from several former greats, Johnny Mac (McEnroe) included. Considering that McEnroe is not lavish with praise and uses more vitriol on air with the mike, Iga may be the one with more records in sight.
History at the AO is dangerous, this is a Grand Slam that springs surprises and shocks, as unpredictable as an earthquake or a tsunami wave. This is where, if Iga can master the conditions and the opponents, it would be nice to see a star turning into a champion. There is a difference between a winner and a champion. The winner does not produce maximum results too often, but a champion does.
Before critics pile on, Iga had great records in 2022, where she showed strength — physical and mental. Iga has talked about winning big and also how she has handled the mental pressure with maturity. After all, someone like Naomi Osaka choked under mental pressure and hides behind it.
At 21, Iga knows she is the queen, she is the cynosure. Not too many Poles did this in tennis, so it makes her even more special. The first year as a breakthrough, when you soar, is not the tough one. Rinse, repeat, rinse and rise is tougher. That will be the challenge in 2023. There is no reason why she should not get better from Melbourne onwards.
After her US Open triumph Iga had said: “At the beginning of the season, I realised that maybe I can have some good results on WTA events. I also made it to semi-final of Australian Open. But I wasn’t sure if I was on the level yet to win actually a Grand Slam, especially on US Open where the surface is so fast. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting for sure. It’s also like a confirmation for me that sky is the limit. I’m proud, also surprised little bit, just happy that I was able to do that.”
These words convey a few things, how Iga was not expecting to rock last year. That she rose so beautifully was good to see. As long as she can do the balancing act, handle success and keep grinding, she will win. The heat of AO and a more suitable surface in Melbourne could be to her advantage. The rest, time will tell.
S.Kannan is a sportswriter with 35 years of experience. He has covered four Olympics, multiple Asian Games and the Grand Slams. Kannan has watched all sports at the grassroots level, national level and international level. He also does appear on radio shows. At First Sportz, Kannan is Lead Editor and Mentor.
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