How ‘dominant’ Iga Swiatek is ushering the WTA out of its era of glorious chaos
Iga Swiatek is a dominant presence in the WTA right now, and with it she is threatening to bring an end to an era of glorious chaos within the WTA.
If you cast your mind back to the day days leading up to the 2017 French Open, the landscape of the women’s game was on the brink of a seismic shift. No one really knew what that was going to look like, but we all knew we were embarking on something that would look very different.
The 2017 French Open was the first Slam since Serena Williams had stepped away from tennis to become a mother. A few months earlier she had won the Australian Open, while pregnant, and that was her tenth major title out of the 20 contested in the previous five years.
Those 20 Slams produced just nine WTA winners. Of the ten majors that Serena could not win, Maria Sharapova won two, as did Angelique Kerber, while Li Na, Victoria Azarenka, Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, Flavia Pennetta and Garbine Muguruza shared the rest.
Back in 2017, everyone was waiting to see who would step up in Serena’s absence and assume her mantle of the dominant force on the Tour. A few players threatened to do it, specifically Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty, but none have really come close. Rather than any one player, the only thing that has ruled in women’s tennis since Serena stepped aside has been glorious chaos.
Indeed, in the 23 Slam titles to be decided since the start of the 2017 French Open, an astonishing 15 women have won majors – nearly three times the amount of men who have done it. Furthermore, of those 15 women to win majors in that time, 13 have done it for the first time.
Obviously Serena has returned during that time too, although she was never likely to be the same player again due to so much of her time and energy now being pulled away from tennis. She still reached four finals, but she never dominated again by any means. In fact, merely attempting to pick an outright favourite for any women’s draw of a major since 2017 has been an exercise in futility.
I think most, if not all, tennis fans would say they have enjoyed that. It is difficult to image, for example, the incredible Emma Raducanu story of winning the US Open as a teenage qualifier happening when Serena was in her pomp. Similarly, peak Serena would have likely dismissed and dismantled the unquestionably talented yet equally naïve Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu in those Flushing Meadows finals.
However, as fun as it has all been, women’s tennis feels like it is transitioning into a new era once again, and it’s an era that threatens to be dominated by a single player once again. From the moment Iga Swiatek won the Wimbledon juniors in 2018, she looked like she was something special. By that stage she had already contested a French Open semi-final and won a doubles crown at Roland Garros as junior level.
Fast forward to 2023, and Iga Swiatek is going to Paris the overwhelming favourite to win a third French Open title and fourth major overall.
“She is definitely dominating women’s tennis at the moment, she has double the amount of points [the then world number two] Ons Jabeur has, and that is not easy to do,” former world number seven and current top Eurosport analyst exclusively told Tennishead ahead of the Australian Open this year.
Swiatek was not able to win the Australian Open, losing to reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the fourth round. It’s worth noting, of course, that had Wimbledon awarded ranking points last year, there is no way those two players would have met at that stage of the competition. She has still won a title this season, though, having successfully defended her Qatar crown. Sadly, a rib injury denied her the chance to do the same in Miami.
Those kinds of titles are revealing too, because the WTA Tour is not just about majors and you cannot dominate it by only winning the biggest titles. Naomi Osaka, for example, has won four majors but they have all been on her favourite surface and they make up more than half of her total career titles. Impressive, yes, but in no way could you describe that as dominant.
Ashleigh Barty retired at 25-years-old with 15 WTA titles, three of which were majors. Due to Covid restrictions in Australia, she barely played other tournaments for a very long time, though, and you can’t dominate by proxy. As a comparison, Swiatek, at four years younger, has 12 career titles, three of which were won at Grand Slams.
“I think she proved it last year, when suddenly Ash Barty said ‘okay I am going to retire, and I am going to take myself out of the rankings’ and suddenly Iga was number one in the world,” Schett continues. “And I thought it would be interesting to see how she is going to handle this pressure and she has done extremely well.
“She has risen to the occasion to become number one, and what a worthy number one she is. I mean she won 37 matches in a row and that is so hard to do. It shows you how consistent she played last year, and she looks extremely fit, and extremely focussed.
“I know she lost to [Jessica] Pegula [at the United Cup], which everyone was very surprised by, but Pegula played the match of her life and in tennis we all know everyone loses. Even if you are Novak or Rafa, you can’t win every single match.
“That is what happened to her, she said that she wasn’t going to read too much into it, and I am expecting another big year for her. She is just the most consistent one – maybe not on grass, but on clay and hard Iga Swiatek feels very comfortable and I am looking forward to seeing what sort of year she has.”
That year could indeed be a very revealing one in terms of whether or not the WTA has truly transitioned out of the post-peak-Serena era of glorious chaos and into something a little more ordered. A cursory glance at the rankings shows no one is even close to Iga Swiatek in terms of ranking points right now.
The coming months will be a test for her if she wants to maintain that authority, but it certainly feels like the WTA is just starting to settle down again after the recent years of wild unpredictability. Whether or not that is a good thing will be something we will all have to decide for ourselves.
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