For a long time, Iga Swiatek considered herself to be a clay-court specialist and didn’t think she could adopt a hyper-aggressive game.
But then she hired Tomas Wiktorowski, Agnieszka Radwanska’s former coach, and started the 2022 season by making the Australian Open semi-finals and winning titles in Doha, Indian Wells and Miami – all on hard courts.
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Her game style has got more and more aggressive and she arrives to Rome as the world number one and having won her last four consecutive tournaments.
While in the past Swiatek used to enter the clay season feeling like she had to capitalise on every opportunity she had on her favourite surface, she is now in a position where she is a contender at any tournament on any surface.
“Right now the transition that I have to do to clay, it's pretty different because usually it was like, ‘Whoa, clay, finally I can play well’. Right now it's a little bit different because I feel like my level was high anyway,” the Polish top seed told reporters in Rome, where she is the defending champion.
Swiatek, the 2020 Roland Garros champion, paid tribute to Wiktorowski for helping her adjust her mindset on hard courts, but she also acknowledges she may have to revert back to her old style of play to be as successful on the red dirt.
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“For sure he helped me to change my attitude towards my game. I kind of trusted him in terms of my more aggressive game. He convinced me to just play more aggressively,” said the 21-year-old.
“Before I didn't really think it was my kind of game. Right now I feel like most of the success that I had this season was because of that.
“We're going to see how it's going to work on clay courts because basically here you don't have to play that aggressively.
“For me, it's pretty weird because right now I have to switch from more aggressive game to the game that I had before. It's tricky. But it's tennis. It's the most important thing to adjust properly.”
Soaking it all up
Swiatek was not in Madrid last week as she opted to get some rest after a gruelling stretch, but that doesn’t mean her name wasn’t constantly coming up in conversations with other players, who were marvelling at her current 23-match winning streak.
The world No.1 was deeply moved by all the praise she received from her colleagues.
“That is probably one of the nicest things I experienced on tour, I would say. I saw what Coco (Gauff) was saying and Ons (Jabeur),” said Swiatek.
“I wasn't even hoping that players were going to talk about me that way because it's such a nice thing.
“Honestly, I'm pretty glad with just being myself and people are thinking that I'm nice and stuff. It's kind of sometimes overwhelming that they're looking up to me because honestly, two years ago, I was the one looking up to everybody. It's such a new position for me that I don't really know how to react.”
Everybody loves Ons
Jabeur has also been receiving lots of love since her historic Madrid title triumph on Saturday.
One of the most popular players on tour, the Tunisian, who is the first Arab or North African woman to win a WTA 1000 title, has been getting lots of hugs ever since she touched down in Rome.
“I had a lot of hugs from yesterday until today. It's great to see all the players happy for me,” said the world number seven, who opens her campaign against Romanian Sorana Cirstea on Tuesday.
“Honestly I'm just really overwhelmed. I got a lot of hugs, I got to tell you, a lot of hugs. I love hugs. It's amazing. Great energy. People were really happy for me. That's amazing.
“I really hope to continue in this level, like I said. I like all players. I respect all players. It's amazing to see that everybody is trying to push the other to do better. To be part of that, I'm really proud of it.”
Away from the tennis scene, Jabeur – nicknamed ‘The Minister of Happiness’ back home in Tunisia – has received countless messages from leading dignitaries, celebrities and Olympic champions of the Arab world.
The official Twitter account of the Tunisian presidency congratulated her, while singers, actors, and comedians from across the region all shared posts about her unprecedented achievement.
Her reaction to all of these messages?
“I was like, ‘Whaaaaat?’” Jabeur laughed, covering her ears with her hands and dropping her jaw in amazement.
“The Michael Jackson of the Arab world kind of texted me. It's amazing to see Ragheb Alama texting me. It's a great honuor for me,” said Jabeur.
“For those who don't know actually, somebody really special texted me. The famous rapper Ghali, who is also Italian, Tunisian-Italian, that I love so much; I love his work, his songs; he texted me. He was really proud. It's amazing. Maybe I hope to see him here in Italy,” she added.
Lesson learned for Shapovalov
Canadian No.13 seed Denis Shapovalov lost his cool on Monday during a fiery first round clash with Italian Lorenzo Sonego, but still managed to win the match despite a lengthy dispute with the chair umpire, some hostile exchanges with the home crowd, and a point penalty that cost him the second set.
Serving at 7-6 (7/5) 3-4, deuce, Shapovalov hit a second serve that was overruled by the umpire and was deemed out. In an attempt to show chair umpire Richard Haigh the ball mark, Shapovalov crossed the net to his opponent’s side and pointed to where he believed his serve landed.
Players are not allowed to cross the net during a match and Haigh explained to Shapovalov that he had to give him a code violation, and since it was his second offence, it would have to be a point penalty.
“I was just showing you the mark,” argued Shapovalov.
“That’s just the rule,” responded Haigh.
“No it’s not, it’s stupid,” said the Canadian.
At that point, the roaring Italian crowd started booing Shapovalov who in turn looked at them and yelled, “Shut the f*** up” (see video below!).
Shapovalov clashes with umpire and crowd in fiery win over Sonego
The delay was extended when Shapovalov tried to get Haigh to eject a heckler from the stands.
“I'm not going to kick him out because I didn't see what he was doing. I saw you talking to him and you incited it a little bit. I understand you're frustrated,” the umpire told Shapovalov.
When play finally resumed, Shapovalov had lost two points, one for the double fault and another for the code violation, which meant Sonego claimed a break of serve and he soon closed out the set to level the match and force a decider.
When Shapovalov eventually won the match, he apologised to Haigh on court and acknowledged he didn’t know the rule about not crossing the net.
“It was the heat of the moment so I got emotional,” Shapovalov later said in his press conference. “I apologised after. Obviously it was my mistake. There's nothing they can do.
“I'll know the rule for next time. I definitely won't step over the net,” he added with a smile.
Shapovalov says there are no hard feelings between him and the Italian fans, who have created an incredible atmosphere so far this week.
“I just need to improve with handling myself (in a situation like that),” said the 23-year-old.
“But in terms of going forward, I've played in Rome a lot of times. The fans love me here and I love the fans. So I think there's a huge love. Even after the match, there were a lot of people standing, waiting for pictures, stuff like that.
“I do really appreciate the support and the love I get here. I'm super excited to play another match – not against an Italian though,” he chuckled.
Emma slips up
In an interview with Italian channel SuperTennis, US Open champion Emma Raducanu was asked if she knew any Italian words.
The British teenager said her friend taught her the phrase “che cazzo” (“what the f***?) and that she didn’t know what it meant.
When the reporter interviewing her giggled in response, the world No.12 asked: “Is that a bad word? What does it mean?
“Have I just sworn on camera?” laughed a mortified Raducanu.
“I’ll tell you later,” said the reporter.
It’s okay, we’ve all been there, Emma!
Stat of the day
It had been 465 days since Stan Wawrinka had last won a match prior to his three-set victory over Reilly Opelka in the Rome first round on Monday.
The 37-year-old Wawrinka, who had two foot surgeries and missed most of last season before returning to action end of March, was playing just his third match of 2022 and was down a set and a break before he took down the American No.14 seed 3-6 7-5 6-2.
It was Wawrinka’s first victory since last year’s Australian Open.
“For sure when you don't win a match in more than a year, you start to think always about it more than what you should and not focus on the right things,” said the former world No.3.
“In general I think it was a great match, great battle. I stayed positive. I start to feel much better with my tennis by the end of the second set, and the third set. I'm really happy with this victory.”
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