Iga Swiatek would have ascended to world No. 1 even if Ashleigh Barty had continued playing, according to 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert.
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She is on a run of 16 straight victories that have seen her capture titles at the Qatar Open, Indian Wells and Miami. She is the favorite to win a second French Open title at Roland-Garros, the venue she burst onto the scene at in 2020 by winning the title as a teenager.
“I always have thought that to put together seven matches in a Grand Slam was really hard, to be at a high level, but she’s put together 16,” said Discovery tennis expert Evert.
“To put together 16 matches in a row with this field with this depth in the women’s game and not having a real dip, not having a let-down, is almost unheard of in the women’s game and that’s what makes her so special and that’s what makes her the number one player in the world.
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“I think even if Ashleigh Barty hadn’t retired, Iga would have reached the No. 1 spot.
“What impresses me about her is – very much like Alcaraz – is the hunger. I keep going back to hunger but she wants it so bad, she wants it so badly and she’s so committed to the game that she forces herself to be in the moment and she’s in every single point.
“And that mental strength of hers is really propelling her to the top. She’s mentally the toughest player out there by far right now, she’s on another level.
“Game wise, she has such an explosive movement. She has explosive shots, shot making. The way her mindset has changed from a counter puncher to an aggressive player with the help of her new coach.
“I think the new coaching has helped. I think what impresses me is I haven’t seen anybody that has excelled defensively as well as offensively. She’s got both those components.
“And the way she steps into the court and attacks every ball with consistency is an asset that she has.
“So again, melding, putting together the physical and the mental strengths, makes me believe that she is not a one-time Grand Slam winner. She’s going to be double digits.
“She’s looking at a long career and she’s viewing it as an adventure, as a positive adventure and not looking at the pitfalls. Her attitude is wonderful.”
Swiatek saw off the resurgent Naomi Osaka 6-4 6-0 in the Miami Open final.
Osaka had slipped to 77 in the world rankings prior to her deep run in Florida after a difficult spell, which began when she withdrew from the French Open after being threatened with expulsion over a media boycott.
But Evert believes that with the Japanese star on the rise again, Swiatek v Osaka could be “the next big rivalry” in the women’s game.
“I think that Naomi at her best and Iga at her best could be like the next big rivalry and we could see a lot of finals between those two.”
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However with Osaka yet to progress beyond the third round at Roland-Garros, Evert is in doubt about who she is backing at the next Slam in Paris.
“I think she [Swiatek] is the heavy favorite for Roland-Garros, I think having that confidence that she’s won on red clay before is certainly going to help her,” continued Evert.
“Iga has proven that she’s a hard court player, but her real strength in the beginning was on red clay and I think that as aggressive as she has become, she also can rely on the counter-punching and rely on the defense as well.
“She has all the components: offense, defense, counter-punching and I think you have to have all three of those when you play on clay and you have to have the sliding. If she can slide on hard courts the way we’ve seen her, she can slide on red clay and her moving is phenomenal.
“Her fitness is phenomenal and she has to be the heavy favorite going into the French Open for sure, she’s had the experience, she’s gotten herself out of tough matches, she knows how good these players are.
“Ashleigh Barty is not playing any longer and Ash would have been one of the players to really threaten her because she’s won the French Open. I think she’s the heavy favourite.”
After her sudden breakthrough, Swiatek now founds herself as the one to beat on the women’s circuit.
She is over 1600 points clear of world No. 2 Barbora Krejcíkova, who will defend maximum points at Roland-Garros after winning the title in 2021.
“You can’t look back once you’re No. 1 and you’ve got to keep looking forward,” said Evert.
“And you have to see that you have a target on your back and that everyone wants to beat you, everyone wants to take that No.1 ranking away from you.
“Nobody will feel pressure playing against you, so they’re going to be playing their best and you’ve got to look forward.
“She’s got to keep her feet on the ground, pace herself, keep working hard. You have to work harder I think when you’re No. 1, because you’re kind of you’re telling these people: ‘stay away, stay away, you’re nipping at my heels’.
“But everybody’s nipping at your heels and it gives them more motivation to beat you, so you have to work harder and she has to keep improving and working harder and stay emotionally even and pace herself, not look back and celebrate too much because then you ‘re taking your eye away from the present and the future.
“When I mean pace yourself, I think what champions do well is when they have weeks off, they have weeks off: they’re not thinking about tennis, I remember going to the beach, laying out, reading magazines, reading books, going to the beach, going to the movies, going shopping, spending time with my family. I would get away from the game and I think you need on your weeks off, you need some of that time to recharge the batteries.
“So I would say just keep doing what she’s doing and just know that players will be after you, but also know that there’s a reason why you’re No. 1 because you’re the best player and don’t lose sight of that .”
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