Wimbledon Women’s Preview: Can Iga Swiatek get last – and toughest – piece of the puzzle?
Iga Swiatek has little left to prove, but the strength of her lasting legacy may depend upon winning the biggest title of the lot, Wimbledon, on the surface she finds hardest to master.
In tennis, few things seem to matter more than legacy. There are no teams or shared accomplishments, no safety net or blaming anyone else. Players do what they do and are remembered for it. And, as everyone knows, there is no true tennis legacy without winning Wimbledon.
We can argue as long as you want about whether that should be the case or whether it is fair, but its not going to change. Wimbledon is the pinnacle of prestige in tennis, whether players like it or not.
For Iga Swiatek, everything she is working towards now is about legacy, and she is writing a good one and done all the right things so far. First she proved she could win a major, and then she proved she could win multiple ones. By adding the US Open to her Roland Garros triumphs, she showed she could win majors on multiple surfaces too. The next step is to prove she is an all-surface major champion, and that is the hurdle that many a player has found insurmountable.
“I would say the grass is pretty tricky for me,” Swiatek admits. “I’m not going to lie. I mean, I guess you can see that I’m not playing maybe as efficiently as on other surfaces.
“Basically my confidence is getting better overall. But [Wimbledon] is tricky and I’m still feeling out how to play the best game here.
“On grass I feel like everything changes. You have to adjust the movement. I mean, for sure I really like how I move on court, especially when I can slide, when I can recover quickly. Here I can’t really slide. I have to slow down before hitting the ball, so it’s tricky.
“I think I would play well on grass if I would have kind of more time to just play on this surface. I mean, every year it’s only like four weeks, so I feel it’s not enough to learn properly.
“I guess I can see other players who learn how to do that, so I still have hope.”
The irony, of course, is that Swiatek already has her name engraved on a Wimbledon trophy. She won the girls juniors in 2018, beating Leonie Kung in the final.
That, though just highlights how ultimately little the title means in terms of predicting the future. Swiatek has seen a meteoric rise, but you will have to scroll down to the 500s to find Kung’s current ranking.
A list of Wimbledon girls champions will show names such as Swiatek, Caroline Wozniacki and Ashleigh Barty, but for the most part you’ll struggle to find players who went on to make their mark as a grass-courter of any real renown. Sofya Zhuk, Angelique Widjaja, Iroda Tulyaganova and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn to name but a few. It is then, far from a guarantee.
Make no mistake about it, though: Swiatek will go to SW19 as the favourite favourite. Well, as strong a favourite as you can get in the WTA, which remains one of the most unpredictable competitions in sport. She won’t, though, be the strong favourite.
The reason for that is the ever-improving Elena Rybakina. The Kazakhstani was a surprise winner last year, but it is probably to tennis’ shame that no one really saw her coming. She had been quietly building momentum and impressing for a while, but the last 12 months have seen her elevate her game to a level that few truly predicted.
That all started with a win at Wimbledon last year for which she never seemed to get the credit she deserved. Some of that felt political. After the All-England Club’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing, even to the point whereby they were willing to sacrifice ranking points to stand by it, a Moscow-born champion was something no one wanted to make much noise about.
There was also a little bit of underdog fatigue in the WTA, in all honesty. Surprise winners of majors have become so commonplace that they have lost their sparkle a little. Rybakina was probably just seen as the latest one-Slam wonder who had a good run at a great time. While such a belief would be understandable, her record since has proven her substance. She heads into her Wimbledon title defence having won two WTA 1000s in Indian Wells and Rome, and she looks like she will be difficult to stop.
As ever, though, there will be no shortage of contenders who will fancy their chances. The real narrative this year, though, may be the players who are not there. It will be the just the second Wimbledon in 15 years without Serena Williams, and 2019 champion Simona Halep won’t be in the draw either as she responds to accusations of doping. Home interest has been hit incredibly hard too with the absence through injury of Emma Raducanu, and Ashleigh Barty’s unexpected retirement last year continues to leave a void at the very top of the women’s game.
That void may ultimately be filled by Aryna Sabalenka. The Belarusian has long since looked like possessing all the tools to dominate, but she has struggled to believe it. That missing ingredient may now have been found, though. She has always threatened to do well at Wimbledon, but this year she arrives in London for the first time as a major champion having won the Australian Open. If that belief still courses through her veins, expect her to improve upon her career-best semi-final performance from 2021.
Another real ace in the pack could be Petra Kvitova. The Czech has struggled for form a little since a knife attack in her own home left her with a badly damaged hand. She is a two-time Wimbledon champion, though, and she appears to be having a strong bounce back season in 2023. That has included an outstanding Sunshine Double that saw her reach the quarterfinals in Indian Wells before winning the Miami title. There are signs that her serve has found its rhythm again, and that should play well at Wimbledon and the other grass court events this summer, including Eastbourne where she is the defending champion.
It’s difficult to discount last year’s runner-up Ons Jabeur too, although serious doubts exist over her form this season. The Tunisian demonstrated the agony of small margins that comes with top-level tennis last year. She reached two Grand Slam finals, Wimbledon and the US Open, and felt like she was on the cusp of a hard-earned and well-deserved major breakthrough. However, she lost both and there appears to be something of a hangover from that this season. Jabeur failed to get past the second round at the Australian Open and she has uncharacteristic early exits from tournaments have plagued her so far this year.
Ultimately, though, it feels like a case of ‘probably Swiatek, but if not then who knows’ in the WTA right now, and the list of players who look like they could, and probably should, win a major only seems to be getting longer – and that can only be good for fans.
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