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PARIS: From bashful Rafael Nadal fan to the hard rock of Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses to the undisputed queen of women’s tennis, Iga Swiatek has come a long way.

Having captured a first major at the pandemic-hit and delayed French Open in October 2020, Swiatek added a second at Roland Garros on Saturday.

Immediately, she sensed her responsibilities when she diverged from the standard post-final script where families, coaches and sponsors are thanked to cast a glance eastwards to the suffering in Ukraine.

“I wanted to say something to Ukraine, to stay strong, because the war is still there,” said Swiatek who has worn a ribbon in the colours of the Ukraine flag on her cap throughout the tournament.

“Since I made my speech in Doha (after winning the tournament in February) it had started and I was hoping when I do the next tournament speech the situation will be better but I will still have hope.”

On court over the last two weeks and throughout the year, Swiatek has been equally forthright.

In March, as she celebrated winning the Indian Wells-Miami double, she took the world number one ranking when Ashleigh Barty announced her shock retirement.

“I didn’t think it was going to turn out this way,” she said of her sudden rise to the top.

League of their own: 14-time winners in sport

“I don’t know if I deserve it. Now maybe a little more, because winning that title in Florida was very difficult.”

It was in Australia that Swiatek played her first Grand Slam in 2019, reaching the second round. A few months later, she only lasted 45 minutes in the round of 16 against Simona Halep on her French Open debut.

It all started coming together in 2020 – a fourth round in Melbourne, a third round at the US Open and then her first French Open which was also her first title of any sort as a professional.

That propelled her into the top 20 in the world. She also graduated from high school.

“Before, tennis was not the main part of her life. It was difficult. Imagine - practice at seven in the morning, because she had to go to school afterwards. And she arrived tired, because she had had to study at night,” said Piotr Sierzputowski, her coach at the time.

‘Three Musketeers’

Swiatek remains scholarly, devouring “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, a New York Times bestseller by Yuval Noah Harari while in Paris this year.

She has since started Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”. Swiatek has started working with a psychologist who helps her prepare for her matches.

“She made me smarter. Thanks to her, my confidence level is higher,” said the Pole in 2020.

“Mental strength is particularly important. At the top level, everyone is capable of playing well, but the best are those who are strongest in the head.”

Swiatek was described as a “beast of the competition” by Sierzputowski.

“When she enters the court, she is ready for anything… she has a hunger for victories.”

Born in Warsaw, Swiatek came to tennis because she wanted to beat her big sister.

This early competitive mindset allowed her to win the first professional tournament she played, in 2016 in Stockholm, on the secondary ITF ciruit.

Two years later, after several months out with an ankle injury, she lifted the junior trophy at Wimbledon in singles and at the French Open in doubles.

Now, with six titles on the main circuit, including three in a row this year (Doha, Indian Wells and Miami), the rocking Pole is securely in place on top of the charts.


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