Swiatek Had Many Reasons To Want To Be No. 1

Iga Swiatek (photo: WTA Tour video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 27, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As the Miami Open presented by Itaú got under way in South Florida last week, the news of Ashleigh Barty‘s stunning retirement from pro tennis at age 25 became the buzz of conversation among players – both women and men. Plus, the subject of a new No. 1 in the WTA Rankings was a big topic raised during Iga Swiatek‘s first news conference at Hard Rock Stadium.

“Well, for sure it would be for me something special to be world No. 1,” the 5-foot-9-inch, 20-year-old Polish star Swiatek said Wednesday. “I never expected that, if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen that way.”

Five days after securing her second consecutive WTA 1000 crown by winning the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., Swiatek’s 74-minute 6-2, 6-0 victory over Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland Friday evening at Hard Rock Stadium guaranteed that she would secure the No. 1 berth when the WTA Rankings are updated a week from Monday following the conclusion of the Miami Open.

“I’m pretty happy I stayed composed and focused and I didn’t think about [No. 1],” Swiatek said during an on-court interview. “Basically, I was just focused on the performance and it went pretty well. I’m happy.”

Later, during her post-match press conference, the resident of Raszyn, Poland said: “The thing is, I never really imagined that moment because, truth to be told, I was working day-by-day and playing tennis well. But I never had the strong belief that it can actually happen. So, it’s every more surreal for me.

“The crowd was really supportive, they were really excited. I’m just soaking everything in because I didn’t have any expectations.”

Swiatek becomes just the 28th woman in the Open Era (since 1968) to earn the No. 1 ranking and the first Polish player. Since turning pro in 2016, Swiatek has gone from being ranked 903rd to securing her first major title at the 2020 French Open, while ranked 54th – the first of five career titles – to being ranked No. 1 in the world.

Following Friday’s match, Swiatek was feted in a brief on-court ceremony by Miami Open tournament director James Blake and former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, who analyzed her match for Tennis Channel in North America.

“Actually, after Indian Wells, [No. 1] became my goal. It’s pretty weird for it to be my goal for two days and it may actually happen that quick,” Swiatek said before the start of the Miami Open. “But, still, it’s a long shot because it’s her decision. I think we got to wait for her to speak about that.”

Barty confirmed during a news conference with international media on Thursday that she had requested the WTA remove her name from the WTA Rankings in the next rankings period, which begins on April 4.

“But really, yesterday when I heard the news, mostly I was really emotional,” Swiatek admitted. “Not because of my position, but more because of her retiring at such a young age. It was, yeah, pretty hard for me to digest as well.”

Reluctant No. 1 or not, Swiatek has worked hard and diligent to earn her new status among the game’s elite players. Her record this past year speaks for itself. In 2021, Swiatek won titles in Adelaide and Rome, was a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, and a semifinalist at Ostrava. This year, she began with back-to-back semifinal finishes at Adelaide and the Australian Open and followed it with consecutive titles at Doha and Indian Wells. Swiatek’s 2022 win-loss record is a WTA-leading 21-3 and she’s won 12 straight – all on on hard courts.

“Well, I mean, it’s not like I wanted to be world No. 1 because Ash or any other player is retiring,” Swiatek admitted. “I always wanted to – I don’t know honestly how to answer that. But I have many reasons to be No. 1.”

Players share nothing but praise for Ashleigh Barty

Here’s how a variety of different WTA and ATP players competing at the Miami Open reacted to the news of Ashleigh Barty‘s retirement:

Naomi Osaka: “Yeah, I feel, like, really happy for her. I know last year was quite tough. She didn’t really go home at all. I think that certainly took a toll. But it was also really inspiring to watch how dedicated she was that entire year. I think she can leave with no regrets.

“That’s something I feel like she was super amazing for the sport, for me in particular. I just really loved watching her.

“Yeah, I think what she did was ideal. I think it’s cool to, like, leave the game when you’re No. 1. You feel like you have nothing left to prove, you feel like. You accomplished everything that you wanted to.”

Heather Watson: “I think it’s a sad day for tennis because she’s such an incredible player.

“I’m certain she would have gone on to win many, many more Grand Slams. She was by far the best player.

“But for her, I’m really happy for her. It’s not easy. I mean, she’s still so young, but, you know, it’s not always about just doing what everybody thinks you should do. It’s her life, it’s her path, so as long as she’s happy, I totally respect her decision.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas: “Ash Barty’s retirement announcement was very shocking to me. I found [out about] it through social media after scrolling my feed. I saw that video. I watched the entire video in disbelief because I couldn’t believe what I just saw.

“She’s been doing incredibly well. Honestly, she’s at the peak of her game right now, I think, having won Wimbledon, Aussie Open recently. I knew she would want to take a break after the Australian Open, which I guess is normal, having to reflect on all of these events that happened. Didn’t expect it to be coming anytime soon.”

Coco Gauff: “I obviously wish Ash the best. I was definitely surprised this morning when I saw it. I’m glad she was able to retire on her own terms, not due to injury or something. For me, that’s what I was the most happy about. I wish her the best in this next chapter. …What sticks out to me the most about Ash, she’s such a nice person off the court.

“Obviously on court, we know what a great player she is. But she is such a great person, so I wish her the best. I’m really excited to see what she has. I saw the video. She says she has some things planned. I’m excited to see what career path or things she has planned next.”

Taylor Fritz: “It’s crazy. She previously, early on in her career, did retire as well. Now it’s obviously a lot different this time with her being No. 1 in the world. She still is very young. …I’m sure she’s thought a lot about the decision. I guess she thinks that’s what’s best for her. Happy for her. I’d still hold out hope ifI was a fan that she might miss it and come back later on because there’s plenty of time for that.”

Leylah Fernandez: “Ashleigh, she’s an amazing player on and off the court. We are very sad to see her retire because tennis, the WTA, the tennis world, we need her. She’s a great athlete. She brings excitement to the crowd on her matches.

“To see her retire like this so suddenly is a little sad. But I hope that she’s happy and I hope that she’s happy on her next step in her life. Hopefully one day, maybe if she wants to, she can come back. A know a lot of the players and tennis fans will be happy.

“Other than that, I think I’m just happy for everything that she’s accomplished, and the great role model she is to not only the players but also to the next generation. I see how she works. I see how professional she is. I know what is my next step, what I need to do to hopefully achieve what she has done.”

Emma Raducanu: “I just want to wish Ash all the best because she had a great career. I think she set out to achieve everything, I mean, what she wanted to when she started playing the sport.

“I think she was a great player and she brought a lot of variety to the game. I really respected that. I took a lot of inspiration from her, just how she’s able to mix things up.

“Yeah, she was always really friendly to be around, as well, in the locker room. She taught me how to kick an Aussie football once, too. Yeah, it was really cool of her.”

By the numbers

According to the WTA website, Iga Swiatek becomes the 10th youngest No. 1 player in WTA history. She’s also the 10thactive player to become No. 1 along with: Venus Williams (2002), Serena Williams (2002), Kim Clijsters (2003), Victoria Azarenka (2012), Angelique Kerber (2016), Karolina Pliskova (2017), Garbiñe Muguruza (2017), Simona Halep (2017), Naomi Osaka (2019) and Swiatek (2022).

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