SPORTS: Revisiting Iga Świątek’s 2022 annus mirabilis.

With the Australian Open kicking off this weekend, it’s worth revisiting one of the great season runs last year by Iga Świątek. She racked up 8 titles including two Grand Slams at the French and U.S. Open. Regardless of her last two losses, the first last year at the WTA Finals against Aryna Sabalenka and her United Cup loss to Jessica Pegula, she should be considered the presumptive favorite in Melbourne. This is especially true if she can shake off the off-season rust she showed against Pegula. 

Iga Świątek was born on May 31, 2001 in Warsaw, Poland. She began playing tennis at a young age, and quickly showed promise as a player. She won her first international tournament at the age of 14, and by the age of 17, she had already broken into the top 100 in the world rankings.

In 2020, she won her first French Open, becoming the first Polish woman to win a Grand Slam tournament. Her unprecedented run was all the more amazing given the fact that she did it as an unseeded teenager making her the youngest female French Open champion since Monica Seles in 1992.

Objectively, 2021 saw Świątek build on the previous year where she surprised the tennis world by storming to her maiden Grand Slam title in Roland Garros. That year, she finished the season ranked 17th. In 2021, she peaked at no. 4 but finished the year skidding back down to no. 9. After getting knocked out of the French in the quarterfinals by Maria Sakkari, she went on to have a pretty lackluster run with her best showing a semifinal loss to Sakkari once again.

The slight stumble proved enough for Swiatek to decide to part ways with long-time coach Piotr Sierzputowski. In his place, Tomasz Wiktorowski joined Swiatek’s team during the off-season. Wiktorowski had coached former Polish No. 1 Agnieszka Radwańska until her retirement in 2018. At his urging, Świątek tweaked her general approach during matches, opting for a more aggressive style of play. 

One of the hallmarks of Świątek’s newfound aggression can be seen in her court positioning. Whereas in the past, her default position for ground strokes during rallies was a good 3 to 5 feet behind the baseline – not surprising considering her prowess on clay – Wiktorowski has her hugging the baseline. This works to her advantage in a number of ways. It automatically makes her shots land deeper in the court. Balls that would have landed on the service line now regularly hit three-quarters court. Combined with the heaviness of Świątek’s balls, even non-winners are become difficult to deal with. Hugging the baseline also allows her to take balls earlier, decreasing the time for her opponents to react. It also takes advantage of Świątek’s uncanny ability to cover the court by cutting off angles that would normally be open when she stands further back. 

Swiatek’s 2022 season started pretty inauspiciously, losing in the semifinals in Adelaide to then world number 1, Ash Barty and at the Australian Open to finalist Danielle Collins. Her transformation from potential champion to world beater began in the wake of a disconcerting loss to Jelena Ostapenko in Dubai. 

While it ended up being decided in a third-set tie-breaker (6-4,1-6,6(4)-7), Świątek struggled against Ostapenko’s power, at times looking like she’d get blown off the court. The chinks in her armor were on display. She was often further behind the baseline than she would have liked. On top of that, the pace of Ostapenko’s groundstrokes threw Świątek’s forehand off at times, causing her to hit the ball late and resulting in either a weak return or an induced error. Finally, the only thing missing from Świątek’s second serve was the silver platter.

Serve Influence indicates the percentage of points won after a given amount of shots while serving. Julia Ostapenko’s numbers are just plain gaudy, particularly when rallies 3 strokes or longer.

SERVE INFLUENCEPts1+ shots2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+
IS 1st Serve7143.70%14.90%26.90%17.40%30.80%18.20%25.00%0.00%0.00%0.00%
IS 2nd Serve4358.10%21.70%35.70%0.00%0.00%0.00%
JO 1st Serve6154.10%41.70%76.90%57.10%80.00%60.00%100.00%100.00%100.00%100.00%
JO 2nd Serve2763.00%50.00%66.70%50.00%83.30%50.00%100.00%

Świątek is nothing if not a gamer and bounced back from what could be seen as a demoralizing loss with a mental ferociousness many of her peers lack. During her next tournament in Doha, she grinded out a win during a gritty match against Viktorija Golubic (6-2, 3-6, 6-2) and then found her form during a 3 and 0 spanking of future Top 10 player, Daria Kasatkina. There was no looking back after that emphatic win. Świątek steam-rolled top seed Aryna Sabalenka (6-2, 6-3) then long-time nemesis Maria Sakkari (6-4, 6-3) then trounced Anett Kontaveit (6-2, 6-0) for the title. Clearly, Świątek’s more aggressive approach finally clicked.

This time, Świątek was the one with the gaudy stats. She won 65% of the total points with 14 winners, 17 forced errors with only 17 unforced errors. Kontaveit only won 35% of the points in the match.

RALLY OUTCOMESPtsAK: W——%Wnrs—-%FcdE—-%UFE—–%IS: W——%Wnrs—-%FcdE—-%UFE—–%
Total8831 (35%)9 (10%)5 (6%)26 (30%)57 (65%)14 (16%)17 (19%)17 (19%)

After Doha, Swiatek went on a run only a handful of tennis players have experienced. She won 6 tournaments on the trot – Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and Roland Garros. She finally lost in the Round of 32 at Wimbledon. To be fair, if she was going to lose anywhere, it would be on grass. She’s sporting a 54.50% win percentage on the surface. That said, she did not play any warm up tournaments between her French Open win and her appearance at the All England Tennis Club.

While the second half of Świątek’s season paled in comparison with the ridiculous first half, she still managed to pick up another major at the U.S. Open, defeating Ons Jabeur in the final (6-2, 7-6(5)) and added to her title tally in San Diego. 

A look at Iga Świątek’s stats last season is reflective her aggressive approach and how it paid dividends.

Świątek’s service games remained about the same. While some commentators have pointed out that she has hit some of the fastest serves on the tour, she doesn’t do it with any regularity and doesn’t really gain any added advantage on her service games. 

MatchUnret%<=3 W%RiP W%1st: Unret%<=3 W%RiP W%D Wide%A Wide%BP Wide%2nd: Unret%<=3 W%RiP W%D Wide%A Wide%BP Wide%2ndAgg
Last 52 Weeks (69 matches)23.50%33.20%52.00%27.00%38.20%54.20%38.80%38.10%37.10%18.70%26.20%47.90%9.20%45.90%46.90%13
Career (137 matches)23.20%33.40%51.30%27.50%39.80%53.40%38.00%43.30%42.20%18.20%25.90%48.00%11.70%53.80%59.60%16

Świątek’s return game, however, was an entirely different story reflects her increased aggression. She also converted a career high percentage of break points at 51.4%.

MatchRiP%RiP W%RetWnr%FH/BHRDISlice%1st: RiP%RiP%RetWnr%RDISlice%2nd: RiP%RiP%RetWnr%RDISlice%
Last 52 Weeks (69 matches)74.10%61.50%5.70%51.00%2.474.70%76.00%58.20%4.20%2.456.60%82.70%67.30%9.50%2.51.30%
Career (137 matches)72.00%58.90%5.70%47.30%2.456.00%72.90%55.20%4.00%2.428.50%82.20%65.00%9.70%2.52.10%

Her increased aggression resulted in better rally results…

MatchRallyLenRLen-ServeRLen-Return1-3 W%4-6 W%7-9 W%10+ W%FH/GSBH Slice%FHPFHP/100BHPBHP/100
Last 52 Weeks (69 matches)
Career (137 matches)

Tactically, Świątek’s aggression resulted in almost across the board improvements in Rally stats. It’s interesting that she almost stopped hitting drop shots but that can be viewed as an indicator that rather than bailing on rallies, Świątek remained on the offensive hitting through the ball.

MatchSnV FreqSnV W%Net FreqNet W%FH: Wnr%DTL Wnr%IO Wnr%BH: Wnr%DTL Wnr%Drop: FreqWnr%RallyAggReturnAgg
Last 52 Weeks (69 matches)0.00%6.00%74.90%19.00%29.30%26.10%11.80%27.30%0.20%25.00%5651
Career (137 matches)0.20%66.70%6.20%73.90%18.30%25.90%24.20%12.40%28.50%1.20%33.70%5850

The data from Iga Świątek’s 2022 season paints a clear picture of her historic success. What’s more, they also reflect her increasingly aggressive tactics, particularly off her forehand side and on her return off both sides.

NOTE: All statistics were taken from Jeff Sackmann’s extensive tennis data base, Tennis Abstract.

WORDS: Marc Landas.

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