Iga Swiatek says she is still learning “how to be famous” as she prepares to defend her French Open title following a whirlwind year. She also told Laurent Vergne of Eurosport France about what she believes separates the good players from the great.
Swiatek caused one of the biggest shocks in recent years when she stormed to victory in Paris last October without dropping a set as a 19-year-old.
She has followed that up with titles in Adelaide – again without dropping a set – and Rome, when she thrashed Karolina Pliskova in the final without losing a game.
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She is now into the top 10 in the world and one of the faces of women’s tennis, but has told Eurosport she has had to overcome some challenges during her rapid rise.
“There were some rough moments for me." Swiatek said.
Not because I felt empty or depressed, but because everything was new to me. The most difficult part for me was the 'business part'. Everything that was not on the court. The media came, the celebrity came, the sponsors came, the expectations came.
“In my country, especially. I became famous, everything changed, so it was a bit complicated sometimes. In Poland, tennis is not the No 1 sport, but when I won a Grand Slam, everybody started to talk about me. It was a bit strange sometimes.
I felt the people who wanted to talk to me did not want to talk with me, Iga, but with the girl who won the French Open. I want to stay Iga. I'm still the same person even if people look at me in a different way than they did before I won in Paris. I'm mostly a cool girl, but I have to learn how to be a famous person, in Poland, mostly, and in the rest of the world.
Swiatek has been helped along the way by sport psychologist Daria Abramowicz, who has worked closely with her for the past few years.
Swiatek says Abramowicz has helped her deal with the expectations of being defending champion in Paris, but she is also having to learn on her own.
“You know, in Poland, no-one had ever won a Grand Slam before me, so I don't have anyone to ask to seek answers. I'll have to learn by myself.
“We talk a lot with Daria, with my coach. They know me. But with Daria, it's not ‘OK let's talk about being the defending champion’. It's an everyday work, discussions more informal, day after day.”
Swiatek’s calmness was one of the aspects of her game that stood out last year as she swept to the title at Roland Garros in stunning fashion.
'What separates good and great players'
Reflecting on her remarkable week she says she was “comfortable and calm” and believes her mental strength played a big part in her success.
“During the whole tournament I tried to keep my routine and did a good job at it. Everyday looked like the day before. I remember, just before the semi-final, I told myself 'hey, it's just a match like every other one.' Of course it's easy to say, but you have to do that. Not let the magnitude of the match take control of you.
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“The mental side is the most important one in tennis. As [Novak] Djokovic said, we're all able to be strong physically, to make a good forehand, a good backhand, and so on. But what separates good and great players, it's the mental thing. This is why I've been working with a mental coach very early in my career. If Roland-Garros went so well last year, it is because I've worked a lot on the mental side of the game.”
So will she feel calm next week when she is the defending champion at a tournament for the first time?
Sofia Kenin admitted earlier this year that the pressure got to her as she went into the Australian Open looking to retain the trophy and lost in the second round.
“It's the first time I'll enter a tournament being the defending champion, and I have to do that in a Grand Slam. So I can't tell how I will react,” said Swiatek.
Some players told me that it's very difficult to manage. I can believe it. We'll see how it goes. I try to have low expectations. Just focus on what I have to do.
“It's hard to say how things will go when you enter a tournament. But, for sure, I'm in good shape coming to Paris.”
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