At the beginning of 2020, everything was set up for a fascinating year on the WTA tour. There had been several outstanding performers during the previous season, and tennis fans were excited to see who would build on their success.
In January, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty lost early in Brisbane. Then she bounced back immediately and won the title in Adelaide, which served as ideal preparation for her upcoming home Grand Slam. She was joined in the WTA winners’ circle by Karolina Pliskova, who also started the year in fine fashion when she lifted the Brisbane International trophy for the third time.
Other members of the top ten did not fare so well. Naomi Osaka lost in the Brisbane semi-final to Pliskova, Simona Halep was knocked out in the last eight by Aryna Sabalenka, Kvitova was defeated at the last four stage by Madison Keys and Elina Svitolina was thrashed in the first round by Danielle Collins.
Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic lost in the first round in Shenzhen and the quarter-final in Adelaide. Kiki Bertens lost in the Brisbane quarter-final to Osaka. And Bianca Andreescu was ruled out of all tennis for the foreseeable future with a knee injury suffered during the 2019 WTA Finals.
There was happier news for record-chasing Serena Williams. She returned to action for the first time since the 2019 US Open and promptly won the ASB Classic in Auckland. This raised the expectations from her fanbase ahead of the Australian Open, but they were destined to be disappointed.
Kenin wins eventful Australian Open
The 2020 Australian Open began in a swirl of controversy. Several players reported breathing difficulties during the qualifying rounds as smoke from the bushfires blew across Melbourne. Despite these issues, the organisers refused to delay qualifying or move it indoors, and the tournament was on the back foot in a public relations sense from that point on.
On the court, 21 of the top 32 seeds progressed to the third round. Moreover, for the first time since 2007, that list included all of the top ten. Unfortunately for the WTA stars, their honeymoon period soon came to an end.
Serena suffered a stunning loss to Wang Qiang, and her defeat started a chain reaction which eventually toppled six of the top ten at the last 32 stage. When the dust fell after the carnage, only Barty, Halep, Kvitova and Bertens remained.
Four soon became three, as former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza returned to form in impressive style in Melbourne and took out the Dutchwoman in round four.
In the quarter-finals, four women made strong statements with straight-sets wins. Barty beat Kvitova 7-6(6) 6-2. Halep produced a sensational display to annihilate Anett Kontaveit 6-1 6-1. Sofia Kenin defeated Ons Jabeur 6-4 6-4. And Muguruza took out 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5 6-3.
Given the emphatic nature of all those performances, a strong case could be made for any of them winning the Australian Open. In the end, the winner was the woman who seemed least likely: Sofia Kenin. She shocked the expectant home crowd by beating Barty, while Muguruza edged past Halep. Then the American outplayed the Spaniard in the final to win her first Grand Slam title.
Halep and Bertens claim key WTA titles
February proved to be an important month for numerous players. Bertens went to St Petersburg and won her tenth WTA title (and her first since May 2019). Halep overcame a strong field in Dubai to claim her 20th title (and her first since July 2019). And Sabalenka earned her 4th WTA premier title in Doha.
Meanwhile, Magda Linette won the Thailand Open. Heather Watson won the Mexican Open. And Belarus, Russia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Slovakia and the USA won their qualifiers to advance to the Fed Cup Finals.
The theme of important victories continued in the first week of March. Svitolina made what seemed to be a timely return to form when she won the WTA International title in Monterrey. Kenin also won in Lyon, and it was all set up for intriguing events in Indian Wells and Miami. Then the Covid-19 pandemic gathered pace, Indian Wells was cancelled, and everything changed in the world.
In the midst of all the high-profile successes, one young player made a brilliant start to the year. She reached the final in Shenzhen and won her second WTA title in Hobart. Then she lost to Barty in the Australian Open third round and reached consecutive finals in St Petersburg and Dubai. This player is a little over six-foot-tall and uses her long levers to hit powerful groundstrokes. She hails from Kazakhstan and is just 21 years old. Her name is Elena Rybakina, and you will probably hear a lot more about her in the future.
Iga Swiatek Explains How Work With Sports Psychologist Aided Her Rapid Rise
The 19-year-old speaks to reporters for the first time since her Grand Slam milestone in Paris.
Recently crowned French Open champion Iga Swiatek believes work on her mental game was key to her shock run.
The 19-year-old Pole stunned the field at Roland Garros as she eased to the title by dropping only 28 games in what is the fewest amount dropped by a female player at the event since Justine Henin back in 2007. En route to the title she beat top 10 players Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin. Prior to the tournament Swiatek was yet to win a title on the WTA Tour and had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major.
Reflecting on her breakout, the teenage rising star believes her work with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz has been pivotal as she encourages other players to follow the same route as her.
“She understands me and she is a sports psychologist, so both on court and off court she is doing, with me, a great job,” Swiatek told The Associated Press.
“The mental side of tennis is really important,” she added.
Swiatek has been labelled as a future star of the sport after winning the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ title. Since then she has steadily risen up the rankings but had never scored a victory over a top 10 player until this year’s French Open. So far this season she has recorded 16 wins on the Tour with 12 of those taking place across the three Grand Slam tournaments.
“I realized that it doesn’t have a good impact on my tennis and I’m not able to play as good tennis on match(day) as on practice (days), so we tried to change that and we did a great job and I’m really happy that the result of that job is (a) Grand Slam,” she commented on working on her mental game.
Speaking about Swiatek’s rise, Abramowicz said she has managed to ‘use her resources and potential magnificently.’ Dr Abramowicz conducted postgraduate studies in sports psychology at SWPS University of Humanities and Social Sciences in Warsaw.
“Iga is very mindful, despite her young age. She has used her resources and potential magnificently. It wasn’t an easy time though,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“What you have seen on television is only a fraction of the work done. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a metamorphosis, but rather an evolution. The doubles proved very helpful in sticking to one’s routines. Iga withstood excellently the difficulties of this tournament.”
Already the first player from her country to win a major title, Swiatek says her ultimate goal is to win every Grand Slam tournament, as well as a medal at the Olympic Games. Her father is a former rower who participated in the 1988 Olympic Games.
She is currently at a ranking high of 17th in the world.
Is 19-year-old Iga Swiatek bound for greatness?
Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper tennis columnist James Beck reflects on the potential significance of the French Open women’s final.
Paris is always magical.
The City of Love must be.
Iga Swiatek is the French Open women’s singles champion.
Always talented, always athletic.
But until this fortnight the Polish 19-year-old had never demonstrated any true greatness in women’s tennis. All of a sudden now, even the great John McEnroe is predicting greater greatness from the latest new star of women’s tennis.
A STRANGE YEAR FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS
What a strange year this is in women’s tennis. Sofia Kenin wins the Australian Open before the coronavirus took over the entire world. Kenin came out of nowhere to achieve this amazing feat.
So, just when it appeared Kenin was ready to keep her amazing success story afloat, another surprise arrived with the name Iga Swiatek. It wouldn’t be real surprising that when this coronavirus disappears, hopefully early in 2021, that Swiatek keeps winning Grand Slam titles. It also wouldn’t be surprising if she retires with just one major title.
Swiatek seems to be just that unpredictable.
DID SHADOWS PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE WOMEN’S FINAL?
Perhaps this time, Swiatek’s glorious day was achieved due to the uncontrollable nature of nature itself. The sun and its shadows appeared to play a major role in how this Grand Slam final started.
Shadows dominated one end of the court at match time on Saturday in the newly covered Court Philippe Chatrier Stadium.
Visibility was dreadful on the TV screen, and it must have been much the same way in Kenin’s eyes when she played the second and third games of the match on the “shadow end” of the court. The 21-year-old American looked out of sorts as if she was playing in darkness and she couldn’t find the ball while falling behind, 3-0.
SHADOWS BRING BACK MEMORIES OF NADAL-SODERLING
The scene brought back memories of Rafa Nadal’s fourth-round match against Robin Soderling in 2009 at Roland Garros. Going into the 2020 final on Sunday against Novak Djokovic, Nadal has suffered only two losses in 88 matches on the red clay of Roland Garros.
Of course, Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals at the French Open wasn’t a show stopper, especially when you consider that Djokovic is now slipping up on Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam titles and Roger Federer’s 20 in the all-time major title race.
But for Rafa to lose to the big-hitting Soderling was shocking at the time. Rafa also looked like he was playing in darkness that summer day in 2009. He couldn’t find the ball, either.
KENIN WASN’T NORMAL SELF
Seeing what happened on Saturday in the shadows at Roland Garros, it’s now easier to understand what happened to Nadal that day against Soderling.
Kenin had a miserable day on Saturday. She wasn’t herself, maybe due to the shadows or maybe to her heavily bandaged left thigh. Kenin is a better player than the one audiences around the world saw in her 6-4, 6-1 loss to Swiatek.
FANS FORTUNATE TO CATCH THEM BEFORE THEY BECAME STARS
Watching this French Open women’s final made me acknowledge once again how great it is to reside in a great tennis town that brings the ITF world-wide circuit to your city. It happens all over the world, to large cities and small cities.
Of course, Charleston also has the WTA Tour’s Volvo Car Open where the world’s best current players perform for large crowds of paying viewers.
The ITF Circuit is different.
Swiatek, Kenin and Cori Gauff all played in the $100K ITF tournament at LTP Tennis in Charleston during 2018 or 2019. All free of charge for everyone to view in person or even to enter the current boundaries of social distancing. Autographs, yes. But autograph seekers were rare for these three young stars even that recently.
James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Iga Swiatek Not Ready To Step Out of The Shadows Of Radwanska Despite ‘Life-Changing’ French Open Win
The teenage sensation is the latest new star of women’s tennis but how good does she think she can be?
Poland has a new tennis sensation but Iga Swiatek says she still has a long way to go following her shock run to the French Open title.
The 19-year-old has stunned the sport by lifting her first Grand Slam title without dropping a set. Something that was last achieved by Justine Henin back in 2007. In the process she beat top 10 players Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin in what is an impressive run for the former Wimbledon girls champion who had never previously won a WTA title until now.
Now she has shot into the limelight, the new champion is expected to face a surge of interest both home and abroad from the public and sponsors. She is the first ever Polish player in history to have won a Grand Slam title with some predicting her to become an even better player than Agnieska Radwanska. A former poster girl of tennis in Poland who peaked at a ranking high of No.2 and won 20 WTA trophies before retiring in 2018.
“I just feel like I kind of made history. But I still think that Radwanska has achieved a lot because she played at the top level of WTA for, I don’t know, 12 years,” said Swiatek.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of people who are going to compare us. But I think I have to be really consistent for the next couple years for everybody to name me the best player in Poland because still I have a lot to do. I still think that’s kind of her place.”
Branding her victory over Kenin in Saturday’s final as a ‘life-changing experience,’ Swiatek admits that there is no time for her to be complacent given the recent history of women’s tennis. Since 2017 Kenin, Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Jelena Ostapenko have all won a major title without previously reaching the quarter-final of a Grand Slam. Within that period, 12 different players have won a major title.
“I feel like I can make progress in most things because I’m only 19,” she said. “I know my game isn’t developed perfectly. Also I think the biggest change for me is going to be to be consistent.’
“I think this is what women’s tennis is struggling with. That’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners because we are not as consistent as Rafa, Roger, and Novak. That’s why my goal is going to be to be consistent.”
Without a doubt she is on the right trajectory with many players hailing the uniqueness of her game with shots such as her ‘spinny forehand.’ The phrase Kenin used to describe her opponents shot. She gets her athlete mentality from her father, Tomasz, who is a former Rower that competed in the 1988 Olympic Games for Poland. There is also another key element.
In recent months Swiatek has been guided on the Tour by sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz. Throughout the French Open she has spoken openly about the importance of the mental side when it comes to the sport.
“I use everything that my psychologist taught me during a match. For sure I’m doing the biggest work on the court,” she stated
“What is the role of sports psychology in the performance? I think it is a huge role. I can see the difference when I’m mentally prepared and I’m ready to handle the stress, the pressure. I can see the difference where I can’t. That’s why I’m sometimes losing in the first round and sometimes I can win a tournament.”
Swiatek’s approach should also help her when she comes to terms with her newfound fame. Fellow player Osaka has previously spoken about the difficulty of her rapid rise in the sport and being pushed into the limelight following her maiden Grand Slam win. Although the Pole believes she is ready to embrace it.
“I know it’s going to be crazy. I think I’m going to get used to that, it’s not going to be a problem for me,” she said about her new fame. “I don’t’ have a problem with getting attention, with people surrounding me. I think it’s going to be okay for me.”
On Monday Swiatek will rise to a ranking high of 17th in the world.
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