Upon arrival in Latest York for this 12 months’s U.S. Open, I used to be delighted to return to a city that’s on its way back, as ever, after hard times. But I used to be surprised to maintain hearing questions on women’s tennis’s lack of a dominant player.
The farewell tour of Serena Williams, the best women’s champion of this era, explained the interest in who might fill the void, but if you happen to’ve been following the ladies’s game this 12 months, there was loads of dominance on display.
Doha. Indian Wells. Miami. Stuttgart. Rome. Paris.
Iga Swiatek has won titles in all those cities this 12 months, and it ought to be no surprise to anyone, not even an emotional Swiatek, that she added Latest York to the long list on Saturday afternoon.
Her 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Ons Jabeur in Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s final was a reminder of what makes Swiatek such a force:
Phenomenal, elastic, sliding defense into the corners, often out of the near-splits popularized by Kim Clijsters and Novak Djokovic.
Sprinter’s speed moving forward. (She chased down Jabeur’s signature drop shots on Saturday like a cheetah chasing down a wounded impala.)
Heavyweight punching power and penetration off the bottom, above all of the topspin forehand like Swiatek’s role model Rafael Nadal.
Big-match mental strength, which has allowed her to search out and maintain her focus under duress with the assistance of her longtime performance psychologist and friend, Daria Abramowicz. She is now 10-1 in tour-level singles finals.
That package of skills, each innate and bought, has created a real champion, and what ought to be genuinely scary to the opposition is that she will still improve her serve, transition game and volleys by big margins.
At just 21 years old, Swiatek is a bona fide No. 1 with an enormous lead within the rankings over Jabeur, the engaging and gifted Tunisian who might be back at No. 2 on Monday.
Swiatek can have 10,365 points to Jabeur’s 5,090: the form of clear separation that great players like Williams or Steffi Graf have created prior to now.
“That was my goal, to get to 10,000 points,” said Tomasz Wiktorowski, Swiatek’s coach who joined her team in December and has been certainly one of the architects of her great season.
After winning the French Open by surprise in 2020 after which solidifying her spot in the highest 10, Swiatek has taken flight in earnest in 2022, reeling off 37 straight victories earlier this season, often by lopsided Grafian margins, and winning a second French Open and — after a brief downturn in July and August — her first U.S. Open.
With three majors, she is now closing in on Naomi Osaka, the Japanese star and former No. 1 who has won two U.S. Opens and two Australian Opens, as probably the most completed major champion of their generation.
But Swiatek, who’s three years younger than the 24-year-old Osaka, already has one significant performance edge. While Osaka has never won a tour-level title on clay or grass, Swiatek is a multisurface threat. Of her seven titles this season, 4 have come on hardcourts like those used on the U.S. Open and three have come on the red clay. And though Swiatek has yet to get past the fourth round on the grass at Wimbledon, she did win the junior title there in 2018 and has the tool set and improvisational athleticism to win the principal event there down the road.
In her only match with Osaka this season (and prior to now three years), Swiatek rumbled past her, 6-4, 6-0, on Osaka’s best surface within the Miami Open final.
Osaka has played little since then and struggled with injuries and her timing when she did play. She is ranked No. 44, and yet she stays by far probably the most globally outstanding young women’s tennis star: the highest-earning female athlete, able to launching her own management company along with her agent Stuart Duguid and signing up other players similar to Nick Kyrgios.
Her high profile relies on achievement to make certain but in addition on geography, representing a significant market like Japan while based in one other major market, the US. She also has been daring and outspoken on social-justice issues and her own mental-health challenges, positioning herself as certainly one of the voices of an engaged generation.
It’ll be intriguing to see if Swiatek, already a superstar in her home nation of Poland, can break out globally, as well. She is sensible and empathetic, and though she said in an interview in May in Paris that she was still attempting to sort through the very best strategy to use her recent platform, she has demonstrated a recent willingness and confidence to talk out since then. She organized an exhibition to boost relief funds for young Ukrainians in July in Poland and is the one leading player not from Ukraine to still wear a blue and yellow ribbon on court to mark her support for Ukraine within the war with Russia.
Nevertheless it is her tennis that has spoken probably the most loudly and eloquently in 2022. There isn’t a doubt that she found her stride in a void: rising to the highest after the shock exit of Ashleigh Barty, the Australian star who was a firmly entrenched No. 1 when she announced that she was retiring from the sport in March at age 25.
It was a giant blow to the ladies’s game, and Swiatek has expressed regret that she’s going to now not have the prospect to check her power tennis against Barty’s more varied skills. Jabeur has Bartyesque versatility but lacks the Australian’s formidable serve and can’t generate quite the identical wicked side-spin along with her sliced backspin.
Even during Williams’s quarter century at or near the highest, the ladies’s game often lacked a transcendent rivalry. There was nothing quite like Graf vs. Monica Seles; definitely nothing like Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, who was in sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday to present the ladies’s trophy to Swiatek.
Swiatek vs. Osaka, or Swiatek vs. Jabeur or Swiatek vs. Coco Gauff all sound like nice ideas for the longer term. Despite rumors on the contrary, women’s tennis does indeed have a dominant player, one with a long-term plan to remain there. Now it needs other women to stand up consistently to challenge her.