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Iga Swiatek’s Plan Is Falling Into Place

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PARIS — Iga Swiatek, unbeaten since February, was sitting within the players’ restaurant on the French Open and twisting her head right and left at high speed, her eyes comically wide as they darted backward and forward.

This was her impression of her former self.

“I remember a time after I was only in a position to focus for like 40 minutes and suddenly my head was like a pigeon,” Swiatek said in an interview. “I used to be looking all over the place but where I must have been looking.”

Her gaze and her game are quite steadier now. After winning the French Open in 2020 out of the blue and out of season in October as an unseeded teenager, she is back in Paris this yr within the spring as a dominant and increasingly intimidating world No. 1.

At age 20, it’s as if she has grasped — in Jedi Knight fashion — the total powers at her disposal.

“I’m not a Star Wars fan, but that is smart,” Swiatek said.

Swiatek, who claimed the highest women’s singles rating on April 3, has won five straight tournaments: three on hardcourts and two on clay. She has won 29 straight singles matches, the longest streak in nine years on the WTA Tour, often prevailing by lopsided, in-the-zone margins which have fans joking that she must enjoy baking due to all of the bagels (sets won 6-0) and baguettes (sets won 6-1).

She trounced Naomi Osaka, probably the most famous player of their generation, 6-4, 6-0, last month within the Miami Open final, and Swiatek reopened the bakery on Monday, routing the Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-0, in only 54 minutes in the primary round of the French Open.

“Once I see the rating next to my name it’s pretty surreal still,” said Swiatek, the primary No. 1 in singles from Poland on either tour.

Is she walking taller now as she makes her way across the grounds and locker rooms of Roland Garros and slaps hands along with her idol, the 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, on the practice courts?

“I feel much, much taller than two years ago,” she said.

A few of Swiatek’s newfound dominance is due little question to the surprise abdication by Ashleigh Barty, the Australian star with the entire game who retired suddenly in March at age 25 while holding the No. 1 rating shortly after winning the Australian Open. Barty was 2-0 against Swiatek and defeated her in January in a tournament in Adelaide, Australia: one among only three losses for Swiatek this season.

But Swiatek, one among the quickest and most acrobatic athletes in the ladies’s game, was already constructing momentum with Tomasz Wiktorowski, her latest coach, before Barty’s retirement. With a yen for self-improvement and world travel and a long-term plan to avoid injuries and ennui, Swiatek appears equipped to be a champion with endurance in the ladies’s game where the largest stars (the Williams sisters and Osaka) are not any longer the perfect players and where too many latest stars have slumped or, in Barty’s case, stepped away altogether.

“You may have to remind yourself that you desire to do that for a few years on tour,” Swiatek said. “You’ll be able to’t burn yourself out.”

Swiatek, a self-described perfectionist, and her team recognize that this trait cuts two ways in a sport during which perfection is unattainable. It could possibly break players down as they bemoan the inevitable errors, but it will probably also fuel a deep internal drive.

Swiatek is well aware of the downside, which is partly why she has worked with psychologists since her junior profession. She still has her struggles. On the WTA Finals last November in Guadalajara, Mexico, in her final match of the season, she began crying on the court through the final stages of her round-robin loss to Maria Sakkari.

“I felt like I used to be getting more drained every month and of course in Guadalajara that was of course the height moment for me where I just didn’t have battery you recognize to type of control my emotions,” she said.

With an eye fixed on conserving battery power, she is aiming for work-life balance, which suggests cutting back on playing doubles and adding more tourist time within the cities she visits in spite of everything the pandemic restrictions and tournament-only bubbles of 2020 and 2021. In Rome this month, on her method to her latest title, she took within the Colosseum and made two visits to the Vatican.

Avoiding burnout also means compartmentalizing, and Swiatek’s compartmentalizer-in-chief is Daria Abramowicz, her full-time performance psychologist.

Swiatek said she realized after Abramowicz began traveling along with her to tournaments in 2019 that sports psychology was best practiced on site, not during office visits in Warsaw.

“It’s just much, much easier for me to trust anyone who’s actually around me on a regular basis,” she said.

Abramowicz, 35, is a continuing companion at tournament sites, closely monitoring Swiatek’s mind-set and energy levels. She is pushing Swiatek to maintain her answers shorter in news conferences to conserve energy. She even made sure Swiatek didn’t read the top of the novel “Gone With the Wind” on the identical day she had a match to avoid draining her emotionally.

Abramowicz desires to create a haven for Swiatek through her routine and support system. “Regardless of how much storm there is happening around, there’s at all times an eye fixed of the hurricane that must be calm; this core that must be at all times the identical,” she said.

Abramowicz favors metaphors, and he or she and Swiatek use the image of opening and shutting drawers.

“At first it was the whole lot that was tennis was in a single drawer and non-tennis stuff in a single drawer,” Abramowicz said.

But they’ve expanded the concept and even use it to interrupt matches into more manageable chunks.

To extend Swiatek’s ability to play within the zone, they use various brain-training tools and technology. But in addition they have used more classic methods: visualization and respiratory exercises, which Swiatek sometimes does on changeovers with a towel draped over her head.

For those accustomed to seeing Swiatek on the court, where she plays in a cap along with her ponytail dangling out the back, it’s a novelty to be in her hatless presence along with her shoulder-length dark hair framing her face. She has an open regard.

“I can’t measure her smartness, but she’s curious, and I believe it’s the best way of being smart,” said Maciej Ryszczuk, Swiatek’s fitness trainer and physiotherapist. “If she doesn’t know something, she’s asking and if not, she’s reading about it.”

Though Swiatek calls herself shy and gets drained by an excessive amount of socializing, she is straightforward company. She is quick-witted, even in her second language of English. She will be able to crack a joke; she deflects or flat-out rejects compliments and exchanges book recommendations as readily as groundstrokes even when the book titles, unlike the tennis titles, sometimes escape her.

For her twentieth birthday, her management team gave her 20 books, all in Polish because for Swiatek reading long-form in English, despite her fluency within the language, still seems like studying. “I’m at all times writing down words I don’t know,” she said.

The 20 books’ subjects ranged widely: from “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell to “The Crisis Caravan” by Linda Polman to “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert.

“I feel weird sometimes after I don’t read for a number of days,” Swiatek said. “Because I feel like, Oh, that’s a signal I don’t have the balance in my life I must have.”

Though there have been no tennis books in her birthday package, she has twice read Andre Agassi’s autobiography “Open,” during which he writes about coming to like the sport after hating it.

Where is she on that scale?

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s a troublesome one,” she said sounding, as she often does, like she is about to laugh without making the transition to laughter.

“It’s a love-and-hate relationship of course,” she said of tennis. “I’m not the type of one who fell in love with it from the primary time. I’m aware of the indisputable fact that if my dad had not been so persistent and so encouraging for me to proceed playing tennis, probably I wouldn’t be playing right away. But of course, I’m that type of one who likes to complete things that I began.”

Swiatek’s father, the previous Olympic rower Tomasz Swiatek, remains to be involved in her profession and is organizing a WTA tournament in Warsaw later this yr. Her parents are divorced. Her mother, an orthodontist, is “not in the image,” in response to Abramowicz.

Swiatek, whose profession prize money just passed $9 million, has purchased a small apartment in Warsaw but still lives on the family home within the suburb of Raszyn.

Her road trips have been very successful of late as Swiatek, tight to the baseline, imposes her rhythm and shrinks the open space: walking briskly between points and setting a torrid pace once points begin.

Her confidence in her aggressive Plan A is palpable. This full-court press is by design: a part of the plan really helpful by Witkorowski, who previously worked with Agnieszka Radwanska, a former world No. 2 and Wimbledon finalist who retired in 2018.

Witkorowski joined Swiatek in December through the off-season after she split with Piotr Sierzputowski, her coach for five years. Witkorowski has emphasized the positive, which became clear as they watched videos of her matches. Swiatek wanted to observe defeats to learn from her mistakes. He insisted on watching victories as well to concentrate on her strengths.

“This sort of attitude helped me consider that I might be more aggressive on court and truly use the strengths I even have,” she said, “Before I used to be more like analyzing how my opponent was playing and adjusting to that. But this yr I need to be more proactive. I need to guide.”

Radwanska, a trick-shot artist nicknamed The Magician, was probably the most successful modern Polish player until Swiatek, but “Aga” was an underpowered counterpuncher as compared with “Iga”, whose signature shot is her explosive inside-out forehand, a bludgeoning blow that features heavy topspin.

Swiatek believes in her work and that she has “good genes” due to her Olympian father. “I feel my body was made to be involved in sports,” she said.

She and Ryszczuk are taking no possibilities. She doesn’t run off the court with the intention to limit pounding on her legs, using exercise bicycles for the cardio work.

“The primary thing is to maintain her secure, strong and healthy,” he said.

It’s a long-term plan for a long-term planner, who makes good use of her Google calendar and likes to regulate not only her strokes but her business.

“I’ve read so many deals, so many contracts through the past 18 months,” she said. “I heard some stories about players who are usually not really responsible in that a part of life. I also made some mistakes after I was younger by way of signing things. So right away, I’m reading the whole lot.”

She is winning the whole lot, too, and surely not by coincidence. On Thursday, three days before this French Open began, she was talking on her phone outside the primary stadium while Abramowicz watched her from a bench at a distance.

“It’s the last day for business calls,” Abramowicz explained. “After that, it’s time to shut that drawer and open one other.”

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