Hello and welcome to the 22nd issue of Tennis inbox. This week: tennis doomsdayers need to relax a bit, because we’ve got tons of talented players in our pipeline, we learn a little more about Polish sensation Iga Swiatek, and, of course, we make some finals predictions. Read on to find out more.
In case you missed it, on Tuesday we published the article “The weird techniques of professional tennis players,” which is a fun, light-hearted look at professional players who have unorthodox techniques. Check it out if you missed it.
Iga Swiatek puts on a show
On Sunday 4th October, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek destroyed world #2 Simona Halep 6–1, 6–2. Halep appeared helpless at times while Swiatek bossed her around with her heavy forehand and aggressive game. Considering that Halep is one of the best movers and defenders in the women’s game, it’s impressive that Swiatek was able to put her away so easily. Swiatek followed up her amazing feat by only losing four games to Italian Martina Trevisan in the quarterfinals. Given her recent performances, we thought we’d find out a little bit more about Iga Swiatek.
From Poland and born in 2001, Swiatek achieved a career-high ranking of #48 in February 2020. She’s had a steady rise into the top 100: in 2016 her highest ranking was #903; in 2017 her highest ranking was #690; in 2018 her highest ranking was #175; and in 2019 it was #61.
Impressively, Swiatek did all of this without the help of any wildcards. Up-and-coming talents are usually awarded berths into the maindraws of tournaments to help them progress their rankings. But since Swiatek is from Poland, and the Polish Tennis Federation has relatively little sway in international tennis, they didn’t have the ability to bargain for her across the world. At first Swiatek was annoyed by this, but she quickly realized that she’d rather earn her positions in tournaments through playing qualifying matches. Tennis journalist Tumaini Carayol shared a quote from Swiatek which highlighted her attitude towards this dynamic:
From her words, it seems like Swiatek accepted the cards that she had been dealt and saw the upside to them. She’s clearly benefited from her mindset because she’s currently playing at a superb level.
A rankings rise like Swiatek’s usually indicates that a player has real potential. Some junior prodigies struggle with the transition from the junior tour to the senior tour (and Swiatek was a prodigy). She was once the #5 junior in the world, and won two junior Grand Slams. One is the 2018 doubles title at the French Open with American Caty McNally, and the other is the 2018 singles title at Wimbledon. Coincidentally, Swiatek is still in the doubles draw at Roland-Garros. She’s playing alongside American Nicole Melichar.
As an aside, we haven’t seen anybody play with a Prince racquet for a long time. Of course there was a time when Prince was at the top of the tennis manufacturer’s ladder. But that’s a topic for another day. Swiatek will play Nadia Podoroska on Friday.
A whole lot of new faces
It’s really been nice to see new players make their statements at Roland-Garros. Those who spend time worrying about the future of tennis have long wondered what would happen once the big names put away their racquets. But if this French is any example, we’ve got some decent—and exciting—players in the pipeline.
A look at some of the matches we witnessed showed us that a new generation of tennis players is ready and willing to take over as our entertainers.
Hugo Gaston and Diego Schwartzman showed us that height is no barrier to playing—and defeating—those at the top of our game. Gaston took down Stan Wawrinka (a player we had declared to be a darkhorse for the title) and Schwartzman beat US Open champion Dominic Thiem. Jannik Sinner stayed solid in defeating Alexander Zverev and even played Nadal a tight first set before eventually succumbing to the Spaniard. Daniel Altmaier, with his nervous, constant energy took out a deflated Matteo Berrettini with his electric (and at times erratic) game.
On the women’s side, we saw Iga Swiatek carve her way through the draw, controlling the court with her heavy forehand. But we also saw her opponent in the semifinals, Argentine Nadia Podoroska fight her way through qualifying to join Swiatek in the last four. Ons Jabeur, one of our favorite players to watch these days due to the amount of variety she brings to the court, lost in a hard-fought battle to determined American Danielle Collins. Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro also made waves in Paris as she pushed herself to the fourth round.
Overall, these new faces announced that they were here and ready to play into the second week of a Grand Slam.
One wonders how much of this worry—that of wondering what will happen to the sport once our famous athletes retire—has to do with the myth-making that we engage in as tennis fans. Are we anxious about losing the big names because we see their faces and read their names on screens almost everyday? Once a new crop of players starts replacing those faces and names on our screens and publications, will we eventually get used to them, think of them as the big names, and then start worrying that we’ll lose them too? What will happen to tennis once Tsitsipas retires? What will happen to tennis once Coco Gauff is out? Perhaps this is just the life cycle of being a tennis (and a sports) fan. That of worrying anxiously, “Once the big names are gone, what will happen to our sport?”
From what we’ve seen so far, these are our predictions for Roland-Garros finalists:
Men: Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal
Why? Because of how tantalizing it would be. We know we just rattled on about new players and how amazing they’ve been, but we don’t see anybody beating Djokovic in the top half of the draw—even though he seems to be playing with a crook neck. And though Schwartzman beat Nadal a few weeks ago in Rome, this time if he were to progress to the finals he would have to do it in a best of five. That’ll be tough.
Women: Iga Swiatek vs. Sofia Kenin
Why? Swiatek is on fire. She just needs to play one more match to reach the finals. Podoroska has been playing well, but we think Swiatek will be too powerful. Kenin is a much harder sell but her competitiveness and grit give her the slight edge over Kvitova. Though we’re not saying that Petra Kvitova won’t give her a run for her money. In fact, if Kvitova is playing well and controlling the court with her powerful groundstrokes, then Kenin will most likely lose. But these are all ifs.