Expectations were incredibly high for world No. 1 Iga Swiatek heading into 2023. 2022 had seen the Pole triumph at the French Open for a second time, win her first Grand Slam title on a hardcourt at the US Open, go on an extraordinary 37-match winning streak, and finish as the year-end No. 1 for the first time. And she was still only 21-years-old!
2023 proved to be a roller-coaster season for Swiatek. It was filled with highs, lows, and a lot of emotion. Ultimately, it ended in success.
Iga Swiatek 2023 Season Review
Roland-Garros Brings Glory Once Again
Swiatek’s start to the season did not match the often unreasonable expectations of many in the media. She fell in the fourth round of the Australian Open to last year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in straight sets, but responded well by winning the title in Qatar at her next event. Another title followed at another WTA 500 tournament on the clay courts of Stuttgart in April.
However, Swiatek’s results at the WTA 1000 events did not match the extraordinary standards set in 2022, when Swiatek won all four 1000 tournaments she played before the French Open. The 22-year-old was not playing badly, and reached the finals in Dubai and Madrid, but fell to Barbora Krejcikova and Aryna Sabalenka, respectively. The Pole did not have the same momentum heading into the French Open as she did in 2022.
That did not stop Swiatek from making Paris her home once again. She breezed through to the final without dropping a set, and faced Karolina Muchova for the title. The Czech was a huge underdog, but the final became one of the best matches of 2023. Swiatek won the opening set relatively comfortably, but Muchova claimed an incredible second set 7-5. Muchova twice led by a break in the deciding set. The defending champion had to dig deep, but that’s exactly what she did to claim a third French Open crown with a 6-2 5-7 6-4 final victory.
Loss of Form After the French Open
Expectations were lower at Wimbledon, with grass being by far Swiatek’s least favourite surface. Hence, a career-best run to the quarterfinal was not a disaster, with an inspired Elina Svitolina stopping her campaign at SW19. A title followed at Swiatek’s home tournament in Warsaw, although in truth, this did not cause any surprise since world No. 61 Linda Noskova was the highest-ranked player Swiatek faced.
The North American hardcourt season did not bring the success of 2022. Swiatek reached the semifinals in Montreal and Cincinnati, losing to Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff for the first time. These were not disastrous results on paper, but it was clear Swiatek was struggling to find her best form in each tournament.
The defending champion looked strong in her opening three rounds at the US Open. However, she then met Jelena Ostapenko, who had beaten Swiatek in their previous three meetings. History repeated itself once again as the Latvian recovered from a set down to extend her head-to-head record to 4-0. The loss also meant that Swiatek relinquished the No. 1 ranking to Aryna Sabalenka, after holding it for 75 weeks.
An error-strewn quarterfinal loss to Veronika Kudermetova followed in Tokyo at Swiatek’s next event. It looked like her season was set to peter out.
Resurgence Brings Glorious End to the Season
Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinal at the WTA 1000 event in Beijing, where she met Caroline Garcia. The match proved to be a turning point for the four-time Grand Slam champion. Garcia won a very tight opening set on a tiebreak, and the second set was also decided by a close tiebreak. The Pole narrowly won it that time, and raised her game to triumph 6-7 7-6 6-1.
Swiatek’s level skyrocketed after winning that close battle. She demolished the recent US Open champion Coco Gauff in straight sets in the semifinal and then claimed the title with a similarly convincing victory in the final against Liudmila Samsonova. The 22-year-old was clearly emotional afterward, with media scrutiny and online abuse of Swiatek being an issue during her drop in form.
That success meant Swiatek had a chance of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking at the WTA Finals. There was much discussion about the poor playing conditions in Cancun. Yet, Swiatek adapted to the conditions quickly and won all her group matches in straight sets to set up a semifinal showdown with world No. 1 Sabalenka. The contest was not as close as many expected, with the three-time French Open champion easily prevailing. Incredibly, Swiatek then lost just one game in the final against Jessica Pegula. That sealed a first WTA Finals title and a dramatic return to the year-end number one ranking.
Overall, Swiatek’s season was compelling and filled with many dramatic moments, as well as high-quality tennis. It is incredible what she has already achieved at the age of 22, and that is why people like Jimmy Arias are so wrong to claim she is bad for women’s tennis.
Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane – USA TODAY Sports