Iga Swiatek was relaxing in bed with her laptop when she heard the news: Ashleigh Barty, the recent dominant force in women’s tennis and Australian Open champion seven weeks previously, was retiring.

A fortnight later, 20-year-old Swiatek has replaced Barty as world number one and marked the achievement in style by winning the Miami Open.

The triumph extended Swiatek’s winning streak to 17 matches and was her third title in a row after also lifting WTA 1000 titles – the most important tournaments beneath the Grand Slams – in Doha and Indian Wells.

The first emotion for Swiatek, like everyone in the tennis world, was shock when Barty announced her decision to quit aged 25.

“I was crying for 40 minutes,” Swiatek, who shot to fame by winning the 2020 French Open title as a teenager, told BBC Sport.

“Mainly, it was because of Ash’s retirement. I didn’t know it was going to happen and it really surprised me.

“I always had this vision that we would all play until we are 35 or something, until our bodies are so tired that we can’t any more.

“I needed time to actually understand what she must have thought. Her decision was really brave and I felt a lot of emotions because of that.”

The second emotion was an element of fear. Suddenly, Swiatek found herself in pole position to take over the mantle as the top-ranked female player on the planet.

“I also felt emotional because of my own position,” she said.

“I realised after two hours of being really emotional that ‘hey, you don’t know what is going to happen yet and you still have to win some matches’.

“So I told myself ‘let’s wait with the emotions and with being excited because I have work to do’.”

Two days later, a focused Swiatek secured her rise to the top of the rankings with a second-round win against Viktorija Golubic at the Miami Open.

From there, she continued to excel. She did not drop another set all week.

In the final she demonstrated all of her best attributes – crushing forehand winners, the ability to defend stoutly and quickly transition into attack, a ruthless determination to maintain the pressure on opponents – to sweep aside four-time major champion Naomi Osaka.

“Emotionally it has been really intense and I have felt a range of emotions – from being proud and having satisfaction, to confusion and surprise,” Swiatek said about emerging as the tour’s dominant player.

“These last weeks showed me I can trust in myself a little bit more and trust my skills and my tennis. Before I didn’t really know it was possible for me to have a streak like that. So it also kind of surprised me.

“After Doha and after Indian Wells I didn’t have time to digest what I’ve achieved. Right now I am going to take some time to analyse what happened from a ‘work’ point of view.”

The numbers behind Swiatek’s rise to ‘1ga’
1: The first Polish woman or man to reach the top ranking in singles
3: Consecutive WTA titles and the most titles on the 2022 tour
4: The fourth woman to win the ‘Sunshine Double’ of Indian Wells and Miami
17: Her current match winning streak
20: Games conceded in her past five finals
Source: WTA

In her final BBC Sport column at this year’s Australian Open, where she reached the semi-finals, Swiatek spoke of how she was striving to replicate Barty’s consistency.

Aware of what she still had to do to catch Barty, Swiatek hoped she would be able to find the level needed to become the world’s best player in “maybe a few years”.

Her rise to that point has been accelerated by Barty’s retirement, clearly. But Swiatek has been so dominant that she may not have been far behind even if Barty had been playing in recent weeks.

“I always knew what kind of tennis I can play,” said Swiatek, whose on-court success is helped by employing sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz to travel with her on tour.

“I have played like that in practice since the beginning of the previous year and had some tournaments where I had showed that sort of level, particularly when I won Roland Garros in 2020 and the Rome final in 2021.

“I always thought there would be a difference in my level from practice to matches. It has surprised me that I can convert it 100% right now and actually use all the skills I have been working on.

“It really helped I was feeling fearless on court in Miami because I didn’t feel much pressure even though there was so much going on.

“This surprised me the most because pressure is a thing that I wouldn’t even think I could get rid of in sport.

“We’ve been working on that and we know it will come back soon. We still don’t know if I will keep doing good and playing that way – that fearless mode – we’re going to see how that goes.”

After Swiatek pulled out of this week’s WTA event in Charleston with an arm injury, jokes appeared on social media that the issue had been caused by lifting too many trophies.

More seriously, the break offers a chance to recharge before the tour switches to the European clay-court swing. Perhaps ominously for her rivals, clay is Swiatek’s favourite surface.

“I am really excited to play on clay because it is where I feel more comfortable and it is more fun for me to play on,” she said.

“This streak has boosted my confidence but, on the other hand, it is a new situation in which I have never had experience. So I have to learn how to deal with it and how to still keep up with the streak.”


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