By Reem Abulleil
“When Iga Swiatek plays tennis, three things come to mind: beauty, power, and truth,” wrote record-breaking alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin in a piece she penned for Time in honour of Swiatek making the magazine’s iconic list of 100 Most Influential People in 2023.
At just 21 years old, Swiatek has already put together a Hall-of-Fame-worthy CV, winning 13 titles, including three Grand Slams, and spending 56 consecutive weeks as world No.1 – and counting.
Making the Time 100 list is the latest of a string of honours Swiatek has earned in her young career so far, and it definitely won’t be the last. After clinching a second Roland-Garros crown and a first US Open title in 2022, she was named Polish Sports Personality of the Year, dethroning star footballer Robert Lewandowski.
She is nominated for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award – winners will be announced on May 8 – and has emerged as a seemingly unstoppable force on the WTA tour, combining her famous heavy topspin with an all-court game she consistently and ruthlessly utilises to take down her opponents.
“I’m pretty proud of myself that I made it (the Time 100 list), and it’s such a great honour,” Swiatek told reporters in Stuttgart last week, where she successfully defended her title by defeating Aryna Sabalenka in the final.
“Mikaela did a great job of writing everything, so I had goosebumps, and this is something that has really motivated me to work harder next year.”
While Swiatek’s weapons have proven to be effective on multiple surfaces, clay is where she is the most devastating. Her supreme movement on the red dirt is second to none; no doubt inspired by her biggest idol, THE King of Clay Rafael Nadal.
A two-time champion in Rome, Stuttgart and Roland-Garros, Swiatek arrives at the Spanish capital this week looking to add the Mutua Madrid Open trophy to her ever-growing collection of silverware.
Swiatek had to miss the action at the Caja Magica last year due to a shoulder injury and has only competed in Madrid once before, back in 2021 when she lost to Ashleigh Barty in the round of 16. She has gone 32-2 win-loss on clay since that defeat to Barty.
“I feel like I’m ready for anything,” Swiatek said after a hard-fought three-set win over Karolina Pliskova in the Stuttgart quarter-finals last Friday.
It was quite the statement from the world No.1, who quickly shook off the rust from a 33-day break from competition, during which she nursed a rib injury back home in Poland.
In the semi-finals last Saturday, Swiatek consoled a tearful Ons Jabeur, who had to retire with a calf injury just three games into the contest, and told her they will likely square off in this year’s French Open final. Later, Swiatek was asked if she considered herself and Jabeur to be the best two clay-court players on tour right now.
“Yeah. I think so,” Swiatek acknowledged with a smile. “Looking at our achievements and consistency, and Ons, she won Madrid, she played final of Charleston last year, this year she won, final of Rome. Yeah, we’re just pretty good on clay.”
“Pretty good” is certainly and understatement.
Swiatek admits she is keeping her expectations low for Madrid, given the adjustments she will have to make in order to deal with the altitude, but she already knows what’s high up on her priority list upon touching down in the Spanish capital.
“I really like the tournament in terms of the conditions and food. I’m going to eat some pulpo for sure,” she told WTA Insider on Sunday.
Swiatek has a bye in the first round and opens her Madrid campaign against former US Open champion Emma Raducanu or a qualifier.
Fellow Grand Slam winners Elena Rybakina and Barbora Krejcikova – two of only three women to score victories over Swiatek this season – are both in her quarter of the draw.