‘No worthy competitor’ – As Iga Swiatek hits 60 wins, what comes next ahead of Qinwen Zheng clash in San Diego?
The end of the 2022 season is in sight. On the WTA Tour, just three standout events remain – San Diego, Guadalajara and the WTA Finals – before the curtain comes down. Only when the Finals have been played will it be possible to take complete stock of the season, but whatever happens over the next four weeks, this has already been Iga Swiatek’s season.
If you need any reminder of just how dominant Swiatek has been on the WTA Tour in 2022 you need only look at the rankings and the enormous 5,600-point gap between Swiatek and world No. 2 Ons Jabeur.
Swiatek has been in a league of her own.
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Such supremacy has not been seen on the tour in some time. Ashleigh Barty was good, but not this good over a season. Before Barty, Naomi Osaka won four Grand Slams but didn’t have the high-level consistency of Swiatek. Even Angelique Kerber’s 2016 season, when won two Grand Slams, reached the final of another, was runner-up at the WTA Finals and reached world No. 1, almost pales in comparison against Swiatek’s achievements in 2022.
So good has Swiatek been that it feels like much of the year has been spent asking who is going to step up and challenge her. So far there hasn’t been a clear contender. All eight of her losses in 2022 have come against different players.
“At the moment, there is a lack of players who could compete with her on an equal footing,” former world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska told Telewizja Polska recently.
“Iga is excellent. She has been No. 1 for a long time. It represents a style at a very high level. At the moment there is no worthy competitor. No one is able to maintain that level in the long run.
“There are mishaps, like with everyone else, but most can count on winning at most one set. With such a high intensity, opponents fall away.”
Swiatek’s defeat to Krejcikova in a marathon final in Ostrava was the first time she had lost a final since 2019. In her previous 10 finals, including three at Grand Slams, she had not lost a set. Swiatek has shown herself to be a big-time player this year. In the biggest moments, she has played some of her best tennis and has dismantled quality opponents. Her only loss against a top-20 opponent this season was in Adelaide when she was beaten by previous world No. 1 Barty. Against her direct rivals Swiatek has been ruthless – two straight-set wins over world No. 2 Jabeur in two finals, two wins over Coco Gauff for the loss of eight games, three straight-set wins over Jessica Pegula, and four over Aryna Sabalenka for the loss of just one set.
Is it a shame that others have not pushed her closer? Certainly for those hoping for some much-needed top-level rivalries on the WTA Tour. But those below Swiatek have not only been too inconsistent over the year but have been unable to live with the world No. 1 when they do meet her on court. Jabeur said ahead of the US Open that she felt she knew “exactly what to do against her”, yet was still blown away in the first set.
What’s fascinating now is what’s ahead for Swiatek, who faces Qinwen Zheng in her opening match at the San Diego Open on Thursday. Radwanska believes her fellow Pole can continue to “dominate”, adding she doesn’t “see a player who can play with her as an equal”. And there’s every chance Swiatek gets even better over the off-season, which will be her first complete off-season working with Radwanska’s former coach Tomasz Wiktorowski, who joined Swiatek’s team last December. Swiatek’s serve could still get better and she could add more elements and tactical nous to her game over the winter ahead of the Australian Open, where she will likely be a huge favourite.
But the competition may catch up too. Jabeur bounced back very well from losing in the first round of the French Open by making the final of Wimbledon and the US Open. Pegula and Gauff have also taken steps forward and should be competing for the biggest prizes next year. Maria Sakkari and Paula Badosa might rebound after disappointing summers and former French Open champion Krejcikova may well continue her recent resurgence. Osaka could also be in the mix if she can rediscover her best level.
But if Swiatek can even reproduce close to the form she has shown this season the gap between the field could still be significant. Take Swiatek’s win percentage this season: 88.23%. That’s better than Barty when she ruled the WTA last year (84.0%) and significantly better than anyone else on tour this season. World No. 2 Jabeur’s win percentage is only 75.4. Pegula, who is third in the Race to the WTA Finals standings, is at 67.3%.
The stats make for ominous reading for those looking to chase down Swiatek, who said at the US Open that “it’s been a long time since I didn’t have any idea” during a match. Now it’s up to others to find ideas on how to beat her.
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