close
close

Wimbledon 2024: Stop telling Iga Swiatek how to play tennis

There are numerous examples of Iga Swiatek being told how to play, how to behave, or even how to wear her hat.

“It's a game of opinions,” they will reply, and the only problem is that everyone has an opinion on practically everything, so what does the truth matter? Facts are of course sacred, and Swiatek is an undeniable five-time Grand Slam winner, and she's only 23 years old.

Perhaps things hit a low point when Jimmy Arias, a former Grand Slam semifinalist, was particularly annoyed by Swiatek's peak. “I don't think she's been great for women's tennis,” he fumed. “She wears her hat so low that you can't even see her face or her eyes during a match. I want to see her personality.” Mansplaining with Jimmy or Singing his ariassoon available for download wherever you get your podcasts.

Historically, female players – especially confident and outspoken ones – have been ostracized at best and shamed at worst because of the way they look or dress. Swiatek, unsurprisingly, has a well-tuned filter for the opinions of those outside her trusted inner circle, which only means she can be unfairly labeled as aloof or arrogant.

But she remains honest and open, even when it gets her into trouble. Not bad for a sport that is constantly looking for “personalities.” When asked about the French Open organizers' recent decision to rarely schedule women in prime-time matches, she replied, “I don't care.” No clichés, no dodging the question, just an honestly expressed opinion. Whether you agree with that opinion or not, it was refreshing.

Four years after the world number one's first Grand Slam title, critics still claim she needs to change her playing style if she really wants to become a generational star – as many predict. “Ever since I started my career in sport, I have heard other people's expectations about how I should play, how I should look, how I should behave and what I should do,” she said. “I never liked to narrow myself down to certain boundaries, I wanted to rely on my beliefs and experiences, my intuition.”

“For me, self-confidence means, among other things, courage. Courage to try new things and not to give up even after making a mistake, courage to be sensitive and to express emotions. There are no rules in a game.”

Iga Swiatek celebrates decisive match point against Petra Martic
Iga Swiatek celebrates decisive match point against Petra Martic (Getty Images)

Swiatek has won four of the last five tournaments at Roland Garros and goes into the Olympics as the overwhelming favorite, but her Wimbledon record is not perfect. She has won 11 matches in five appearances, her best result being a loss in the quarterfinals last year.

Her second-round rival, Croatian Petra Martic, is no fan of the green stuff either. And Wimbledon's sometimes-flawed AI prediction calculator gave her just a seven percent chance of winning. That might have been a little unfair, but Swiatek was well worth her 6-4, 6-4 victory. With a “come on” cry, she won three match points but only needed one to secure her place against Yulia Putintseva in the third round.

In the past, she started to falter around this point, but her consistency in Grand Slam tournaments is remarkable: she is the only woman to have reached at least the last 32 of every major this decade, in 18 tournaments and counting.

“I'm glad I played solidly,” Swiatek said. “I felt like I was in control in most of the games when Petra was serving, but I couldn't really break through her. I'm glad I broke through twice. That was necessary to win those sets. I'm glad I'm in the next round.”

Swiatek won in two sets against Martic on Centre Court
Swiatek won in two sets against Martic on Centre Court (Getty Images)

“I take everything step by step and every match counts for me. It's not like I go into the first rounds of the Grand Slams knowing that I have to win or that I should take it for granted. I'm ready to fight in the first rounds. I'm definitely happy that I'm consistent.”

Elena Rybakina, the women's champion two years ago, is another much-criticized player who is famously unable to smile after her 2022 success. Defeated finalist Ons Jabeur joked: “I have to teach her how to celebrate.”

Rybakina was not holding back, however, although the number four player allowed herself a smile after her 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over German Laura Siegemund. “Hard” was her preferred word to describe it, and in fact she said it four times in just 70 words.

It was close for a while, but it was ultimately decided by her devastating ball striking on both groundstrokes. Her game is perfect for this surface.

“It's always tough playing against Laura and for some reason every time we play it's super windy on the court,” she said. “It was a tough match and I'm really happy I was able to win. Hopefully the next match will be more solid from my side. That gives me confidence, but every match is different and every match is tough – even when I won in 2022 I had some tough matches.”