Game, movement, head.
The first racket of the world, Iga Sventek, had a historic season. The statistics speak for themselves.
In many respects, the polka was the best this year after the greats: Serena Williams (titles, wins) and Steffi Graf (matches with the top 10). And her central achievement was a 37-game winning streak – the longest in the 21st century and second only to Chris Evert (55), Margaret Court (57), Steffi Graf (66) and Martina Navratilova (74).
If we compare the polka with the current round, then the picture of dominance is generally amazing – in almost all the main indicators, she outperforms her rivals twice.
Another indicator of her superiority is the Elo rating, which takes into account not the number of points earned, but the quality of the beaten rivals. In it, she is the leader of the tour and breaks away from the second-placed Ons Jaber by almost 150 points. This means that in a face-to-face meeting, the probability of her winning is approximately 70%.
For comparison, in men, the leader of the tour, Novak Djokovic, has a similar lead only over the 11th Andrey Rublev. And No. 2 in Elo in the WTA Zhaber is about 150 points clear of only No. 22 Marketa Vondrousova.
What made Igu such a dominator?
Game: Schwentek stopped being afraid of mistakes and became more aggressive
The main change in Schwentek’s game in 2022 is more outright aggression. She herself said that the basis of her tennis is clay tactics, built on a very strong top spin, which allows you to attack with reduced risk (to launch the ball high above the net and quite far from the lines, but at the same time create problems for opponents due to the rebound height).
Taking into account the fact that, for example, at the victorious Roland Garros-2020, Sventek twisted slightly stronger than Rafael Nadal (3200 rotations per minute against 3453), this tactic worked perfectly for her from the first years on the ground.
It was more difficult on fast surfaces because the bounce is not as high as on clay. Therefore, Schwentek’s twisted punches worked less effectively. In addition, she often allowed her opponents to put herself on the defensive, from where it is much more difficult to win.
This year Šwiętek has a new coach – Tomas Wiktorowski, who previously worked with Agnieszka Radwańska. And Viktorovski immediately set the task – to become more aggressive on fast surfaces. And for this it was necessary to make the shots flatter, reduce the level of rotation – and, accordingly, increase the level of risk that the ball will hit the net or fly into out.
For this, Schwentek’s fear of making mistakes had to be overcome. To do this, in the off-season they reviewed the matches of the polka, but focused only on the positive aspects and strengths. “This mindset helped me believe that I could be more aggressive and play to my strengths. Before, I analyzed more how my opponents play and adjusted to it. But this year I want to be more active. I want to lead,” said Iga.
As a result, in the course of many hard tournaments, statistics were viral in social networks that, on average, Schwentek hits 10-15-20 km/h more than her rivals. At the same time, having ceased to be afraid of mistakes, Iga regularly gives out segments when he does not perform them at all. The most striking example is the semi-finals of the US Open, when from a score of 2:4 in the decisive set against Arina Sobolenko, she allowed only one.
And her ability to rotate, too, has not gone away. Even on hard, she spins a lot – and together with the speed of her punches, this leads to the fact that her punches become especially heavy and destructive. Dealing with these rivals is very difficult.
And a large set of tools allows Sventek to approach different opponents in a different way – and lead against them in different ways. For example, during the final WTA tournament, Wiktorovski said: “She played against Kasatkina, who moves amazingly, and played steadily, varied speed, added strong top spin and low fast balls, changed the direction of the serve and almost did not make mistakes.
And then she played against Garcia, who presses from the very beginning, waits for the ball in the court, attacks the rising ball, very quickly accelerates the first serve, the second serve. Two completely different opponents, but she managed to find a solution and implement tactics, ”said Wiktorowski. And she fought with Garcia by simply hammering her herself.
Such tactical flexibility is also a rather unprecedented story for the current WTA.
Movement: Schwentek glides the best on the tour, and this helps both in defense and in attack
If in strikes Sventek tried to move away from clay tactics, then in movement she turns hard into clay due to an unrealistic and slightly frightening slide in the spirit of Novak Djokovic.
Sliding allows her to solve two problems:
1. Defensive. Just drag more balls and drag out draws.
2. Attacking. Since she can slide like that, she doesn’t have to move back to give herself time to respond to a corner kick. As a result, she does not lose position and remains on the attack.
The great Martina Navratilova spoke about the delights of sliding Schventek:
“She ends the slide when she hits the ball. It turns out that her body no longer moves when she hits, so the blow is more stable. And she can immediately return to the middle of the court. Others slip after being hit, so they return to the court later – and become more vulnerable.
Also, there is a big difference between when you hit from right on the baseline and when you are a meter behind the baseline. And, in my opinion, she believes that she will not be punished for entering the court, that she will withstand the next blow. And she’s fast enough to recover from any position, and that allows her to move forward more riskily.”
Of course, for such a movement you need first-class athleticism – and for Schwentek this is innate. Her father was an Olympic weightlifter, and she herself said: “It seems to me that my body was created for sports.” Naturally, now Iga wins not only due to natural athleticism, but also due to unrealistic work on physics.
And the best illustration of this work is its movement.
Head: The yoke has become more stable, and the psychologist even monitors when and what she reads
After winning the Roland Garros 2020, almost all tennis people were sure that Schwentek would achieve a lot. But she had an unpleasant trait: when everything went well, she was beautiful, but when something didn’t work out, she fell psychologically.
Since 2019, the polka has been working with psychologist Daria Abramowitz, and she does a lot to make Schwentek approach the match as psychologically fresh as possible. It comes down to amazing little things: for example, she asked her not to read the ending of Gone with the Winds on the day of the match (so as not to be emotionally exhausted), and also calls for shorter answers at press conferences in order to spend less energy on it.
As the match progresses, Abramowitz encourages Šventek to split it into short stretches that are easier to deal with psychologically. They also have a number of tricks to keep her able to stay in the “zone” in which she shows her maximum level. They are known to use visualization and breathing exercises, but other tools have not yet been revealed.
In addition, Schwentek is smarter about building a calendar – he readily skips tournaments if he feels an emotional downturn. “You need to remind yourself that you want to do this for many more years. You can’t allow yourself to burn out, ”Iga said about this approach.
Of course, she did not manage to completely avoid psychological problems even this season. For example, after a 37-match winning streak, she lost half of the matches, and at the beginning of the streak on American hard, as it seems, she worked herself up too much because of an uncomfortable ball. But in the end, she got over it.
At the same time, Schwentek still has at least one gaping weak spot – the second serve. It is slow, rather predictable (twisting towards the middle of the square) and attackable.
In addition, experts note that she can be attacked in forehand – because she uses an extreme grip to create spin, with which it is difficult for her to handle fast and low balls.
So Iga could be even better next year.
On the other hand, in 2023 she will have to defend a lot of points and prove her status again. It will be interesting to see how she handles it.