Iga Swiatek has made absolutely no secret of her Rafael Nadal fandom. She stuck around in Melbourne earlier this year to watch him win the Australian Open. She has admitted she cried when he lost to Novak Djokovic at the French Open last year. Swiatek has called Nadal her “idol” and says she is trying to follow his approach to the game.
But this week Swiatek is going her own way, opting out of the Madrid Open as Nadal plans his comeback from injury at the event.
The women’s world No. 1 cited a right shoulder injury as the reason for pulling out of the tournament. The problem does not seem serious – “it's not like we have some drama because everything is okay” – and the move appears largely to be precautionary, and understandable. Swiatek has played a lot of tennis in the first quarter of the year, largely because she has won so many matches. She has won her last 23 in a row, lifting four titles across three continents and only, she says, having “two days to chill out” after each event.
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There must have been a temptation to keep going, to continue to play the hot hand. Presumably Swiatek was considering it as she travelled to Madrid after winning the Stuttgart Open on Sunday and only announced her withdrawal a few days before her scheduled first match.
“Right now I feel like this is the best decision for us to get ready for Rome and have the peak of my form in Roland Garros,” said Swiatek, who hands over top-seed duties to home favourite and new world No. 2 Paula Badosa.
Swiatek’s withdrawal may be a welcome relief for the rest of the women’s field in Madrid – finally someone else has a chance to lift a trophy – but if she comes back fully refreshed for Rome and the French Open then beating her will be a formidable challenge.
Right now it seems a smart move on Swiatek’s part, and one that shows her understanding of the bigger picture. As
, the quicker conditions at high altitude in Madrid are not necessarily the perfect preparation for the French Open. There’s still time in Rome, where Swiatek is defending champion, to fine tune everything before Paris.
If Swiatek has prioritised rest and recovery, Nadal appears to have slightly erred the other way.
The 21-time Grand Slam champion has been recovering over the last six weeks from a rib injury that hampered his chances of winning the Indian Wells final. He hasn’t played since the setback in late March and he almost seemed to suggest this week that he is not quite ready to return at his top level yet.
"Despite having a short preparation and facing a difficult event, I can't wait to play at home, where we don't have many chances to do so,” he tweeted to confirm his comeback in the Spanish capital.
"I'll try to do my best.”
Madrid has not been a particularly successful tournament for Nadal in recent years, with three quarter-final exits in his last four appearances. He has only won the event five times, compared to 11 victories in Monte Carlo and 10 in Rome. That he has wanted to play in Spain is understandable, but two-time French Open finalist Alex Corretja said recently he is not sure playing Madrid seems like the best option.
“What’s the best preparation for Paris? Two tournaments including one in Madrid or skip and practice and get ready in Rome to see how it goes? And then Paris – only time will tell that. But it’s going to be a very tricky decision because skipping Madrid would be a pity for him, but at the same time, we know how risky Madrid is from a professional point of view.”

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There were some questions earlier this year whether Nadal overdid it by playing in Mexico a couple of weeks after winning the Australian Open. Yes he won the title, but did his schedule play a part in his injury at Indian Wells, which disrupted the start of his clay season?
The initial timeframe for his return from the rib injury was four-six weeks, so that is on track, and Nadal knows his body better than anyone. He would surely not be playing in Madrid if he felt there was a chance of aggravating the injury. But his approach does not seem as cautious as Swiatek’s decision to not play.
"I wanted to play it really badly, honestly,” said the women's world No. 1. “But sometimes you just have to make the smartest decision possible. My heart was like, 'Hey, Iga, this is Madrid.' I only had one chance to play here, and I feel like I could do better. So I wanted to improve the result that I had last year.
"But I'm pretty happy that my team sometimes is also taking a lot of responsibility. I trust in them and I know that they're going to make the right decisions because I've never had a situation, in terms of planning and in terms of looking more to the future and not what's going on right now, I've never had a situation when their decision was wrong.”
Only time will tell whether Swiatek and Nadal have made the right decisions, but they seem to have taken differing approaches with the French Open on the horizon.

'She has magic'

New world No. 2 Paula Badosa has sung the praises of Swiatek as she prepares to lead the WTA field in her absence at the Madrid Open.
Badosa, who will be top seed at the tournament, has often practised with Swiatek and says she "totally deserves" to be leading the world rankings.
"Mentally she's different. The way she plays, she has special hands. She has magic. From the middle, she opens the court very easily. She moves amazing.
"She has everything to be world No.1. She totally deserves it. And I'm even more happy, because she's a humble person and she's very normal."
World No. 3 Maria Sakkari added: "Obviously, you can tell she's a very, very nice girl. She's a very good person. You can tell from her eyes and from her and from her aura and everything.
"She has something, not a superpower, but something special. She's like Eleven in Stranger Things. She has something."
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