Iga Swiatek is elite of elite at season-ending WTA Finals

Oct 29, 2022, 11:06 PM | Updated: Oct 30, 2022, 11:53 am
FILE -  Iga Swiatek, of Poland, returns a shot to Ons Jabeur, of Tunisia, during the women's single...

FILE - Iga Swiatek, of Poland, returns a shot to Ons Jabeur, of Tunisia, during the women's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in New York. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek and 18-year-old American Coco Gauff have been drawn into the same round-robin group at the WTA Finals, which starts Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

              Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, both of the United States, practice at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
            
              Jessica Pegula, of the United States, smiles during practice at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
            
              Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, reacts during practice at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
            
              FILE -  Coco Gauff, of the United States, returns a shot to Madison Keys, of the United States, during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in New York. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek and 18-year-old American Coco Gauff have been drawn into the same round-robin group at the WTA Finals, which starts Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
            
              Ons Jabeur, of Tunisia, practices at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
            
              Iga Swiatek, of Poland, talks during a press conference at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
            
              FILE -  Iga Swiatek, of Poland, returns a shot to Ons Jabeur, of Tunisia, during the women's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in New York. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek and 18-year-old American Coco Gauff have been drawn into the same round-robin group at the WTA Finals, which starts Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Iga Swiatek’s body of work in 2022 speaks for itself.

She’s been No. 1 in the rankings since April. She owns a tour-leading eight titles, including two at Grand Slam tournaments. She’s collected a year’s-best 64 victories heading into the WTA Finals that begin Monday, including a 37-match unbeaten run from February to June that was the longest in women’s tennis in a quarter-century.

Add it all up, and she’s developing an aura of intimidation.

“Yeah, she’s a challenge,” said Caroline Garcia, who is in the same round-robin group as Swiatek, Coco Gauff and Daria Kasatkina at the eight-player tournament that caps the season. “WTA Finals is a challenge, but she’s a challenge just by herself.”

The other singles group gets things going on Day 1 on the slow- and low-bouncing indoor hard court at Dickies Arena, with Jessica Pegula facing Maria Sakkari — a rematch of Pegula’s 6-2, 6-3 victory a week ago in the final of the Guadalajara Open for her first career WTA 1000 trophy — and Ons Jabeur taking on Aryna Sabalenka.

On Tuesday, Swiatek faces Kasatkina, before Garcia meets Gauff.

Given everything the 21-year-old Swiatek has accomplished this year — and it’s a lot — how does she stay motivated?

The answer she offered was somewhat surprising: She doesn’t, necessarily.

“I feel like I also accepted that I don’t have to feel … always 100% motivated. Sometimes, especially after Grand Slams, when you are playing these smaller tournaments, you feel the energy level is a little bit lower,” Swiatek said. “But on the other hand, when I’m going on court, it’s still the same, and I always want to win. I’m basing my motivation on that.”

She summed it up this way: “It’s OK, sometimes, to not be so pumped, you know?”

Swiatek owns a winning record against all of the other members of the field except Sakkari, a two-time major semifinalist who is 3-2 head-to-head.

“She has been playing some great tennis this year, and she has changed a lot of things mentally and tennis-wise,” Sakkari said. “There’s a lot of respect from my side to her side. I know it’s the same from her side to my side. So it’s very exciting to have someone that young that actually does all these great things for the sport. But she’s a human being. She’s like everyone else in this room.”

Maybe.

But no one else on tour has come even close to consistently solving Swiatek’s mix of big topspin forehand, variety and ability to change tactics mid-match.

No one came within 15 match wins of Swiatek’s total.

No one else has won more than three WTA titles this season.

Swiatek is also the first woman since 2016 to win two Grand Slam trophies in one year.

Unlike other tournaments, there is no chance to ease into things at the WTA Finals. Every opponent is among the elite. It just so happens that Swiatek is the elite of the elite.

Even so, she looks at this as a relatively new experience. Swiatek made her debut in the event last year, when she was eliminated in the group stage.

“For sure, you have to be ready from the beginning,” Swiatek said. “I want to see how it’s going to go for me because, still, I feel like I’m learning.”

___

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Iga Swiatek is elite of elite at season-ending WTA Finals