Iga Swiatek, Voted a Fan Favorite, Turns to the Finals

Iga Swiatek likes Legos and long books. Both help keep her mentally sharp for the grueling matches she plays on the WTA Tour.

While quarantined in her hotel room for two weeks before the Australian Open in February, Swiatek, 20, completed the contents of two giant Lego boxes that she carried from her home in Poland. When she began competing at the United States Open in August, she was three weeks into reading “Gone with the Wind,” a long American classic.

A year ago, after shocking the sport by winning the French Open without dropping a set (she lost just 28 games in seven matches), Swiatek became the lowest-ranked woman, at No. 54, to win the title. She was also the first player from Poland to capture a major and the youngest woman to win at Roland-Garros since then-18-year-old Monica Seles in 1992.

Swiatek qualified for her first WTA Finals, the eight-woman championship, last year, but the event was canceled because of the pandemic. A year later, after winning the Adelaide International and Italian Open and reaching No. 4 in the world in September, Swiatek, now ranked No. 10, has qualified again.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

How disappointed were you when last year’s finals was canceled?

I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed because last year was pretty tricky for me. I was happy that Roland-Garros was the last tournament because I could learn how to deal with all the new reality and new obligations. And it wouldn’t have been fair [to contest the finals] since there were so few tournaments and many players didn’t play. I know that the Covid situation and the break that we had on tour probably helped me a lot. I don’t know if I would have had the same success if we didn’t have Covid.

Iga Swiatek returned a shot to Anett Kontaveit, of Estonia, during the third round of the U.S. Open in September. Last year, she became the lowest-ranked woman to win the French Open. Credit…Elise Amendola/Associated Press

When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine being among the Elite Eight?

I never thought about it because there are so many other players with great experience. But after I won Roland-Garros I had the feeling that anything could happen in tennis right now.

In Guadalajara, you will be playing with pressureless tennis balls to combat the effects of the 5,000-foot altitude. How will you adjust?

I have no idea. I have to try this. I played in Madrid (about 2,100 feet) for the first time this year, and my shots were flying like crazy. So we made some adjustments, and by the end I played really solid tennis. Guadalajara is going to be even worse, so I really need to get used to the conditions.

In Indian Wells you had the chance to visit with Andy Murray, and now you want to practice with him. What do you want to learn?

I told him we should practice on grass because, even though I reached the fourth round at Wimbledon this year, I feel like every day can be tricky on grass, and I need some more power and more experience to be solid there.

You were voted the WTA’s fan favorite for your drop shot and your singles play. What did that mean to you?

It meant a lot because when I have a hard time finding the motivation to practice I always remember that tennis is entertainment. I love playing in stadiums, especially when I win, and I love the support I get from people.

You recently donated $50,000 in support of World Mental Health Day. What have you learned about yourself and your own mental wellness after traveling for so many years with your own sports psychologist?

It’s hard to separate what I’ve learned from the new experiences I’ve had and from just growing up. When I won Roland-Garros I was 19, and that’s a period of life when you learn a lot about yourself even when you’re not an athlete. I feel like there is a pretty crazy mix between my personal and work life because being an athlete is a 24-hour job. But I wouldn’t change this experience for anything because I think it gave me a lot of knowledge about myself and wisdom that I can use later in life.

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