“I don’t expect a lot” – Swiatek faces grass-court conundrum after Roland-Garros triumph

The world No 1 clinched her fifth Grand Slam title earlier today, beating Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-1 in the Roland-Garros final. But she has yet to fully master grass-court tennis

Iga Swiatek wins Roland-Garros 2024 Iga Swiatek wins Roland-Garros 2024 © Federico Pestellini / Panoramic
Roland Garros •Final • completed
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As Iga Swiatek‘s 37-match winning streak came to an end at the hands of Alize Cornet in the third round of Wimbledon in 2022, there was an almost expecting half-smile as the Pole waved farewell to the Court One crowd for another year.

Indeed, Swiatek herself later admitted that she had half-suspected her extraordinary run may come to an end at SW19.

It was a defeat she was able to accept more readily than some others, with the acknowledgement that grass is her least favoured surface.

In the wake of both of her past triumphs at Roland-Garros, Swiatek has entered the grass-court season with her expectations very much tempered. This year is no different.

“I had these ideas of doing pre-season on grass so I can learn how to play there,” Swiatek revealed towards the end of her winner’s press conference after clinching her fourth Roland-Garros title.

“Last year’s result was pretty nice. I feel like every year it’s easier for me to adapt to grass. So I think there is no need to do that.

“I just need to continue the work that I’ve been doing, and, yeah, it’s been easier every year, especially with my coach who, with Radwanska, they had great results on grass and he kind of feels grass well, I think.

“But yeah, for sure it’s a huge challenge. If I would lose here earlier, maybe I would be able to play two more weeks on grass and then be a better grass player, but if I would choose, I love playing on clay, so I’m not going to give up that ever.”

Elina Svitolina knocks Iga Swiatek out of Wimbledon 2023

As Swiatek alludes to, there has been progress between her 2022 and 2023 Wimbledon campaigns. Last year, she reached the quarter-finals for the first time in her career, going down to an inspired Elina Svitolina.

It is not as though she does not know how to play on the surface – Swiatek was Wimbledon Girls’ Junior champion in 2018 after all.

It is more that her standard is so stratospherically high on clay – and not far behind on hard – that, by comparison, grass is a significantly weaker court for Swiatek.

quick turnaround between clay and grass-court stretches an issue with repeated roland-garros success

There is little doubt that the world No 1 will learn to master the surface, as she possesses a quality and intelligence that will enable her to adapt sufficiently to have great success.

But, currently, it is something of a conundrum that her repeated success throughout the clay stretch lends itself to a lack of preparation for the grass-court swing.

Swiatek has played a lot of tennis over the past two months. After such a gruelling stretch, a sufficient period of recovery is of paramount importance for the rest of her season and the longevity of her career.

Yet, the transition from clay to grass is the quickest turnaround of surfaces in the whole calendar. This remains an issue.

“I felt last year that I could adapt quicker. I’ll also see what the plan is for this year, because last year it was the first time I was able to play this tournament before, you know, I played Bad Homburg.

“So I think to play some matches before Wimbledon is also good, but on the other hand, I played basically almost every match in Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome and here, and so we need to, like, take care of my physicality, as well. So we’ll see what the plans are.

“I think the biggest progress I can make on grass right now is using my serves better, but also I don’t expect a lot.

“The balls are different. Overall tennis is different on grass. I’ll just see and I’ll work hard to play better there.”

Swiatek’s post-match press conference following her fourth Roland-Garros title

The admission from Swiatek that she needs to both play grass-court matches prior to Wimbledon, which starts in just over three weeks’ time, but also take care to protect her body is a difficult circle to square.

With the understandable revelation that she will also never miss the clay-court season in order to prioritise success on the grass, this is starting to become a recurring problem for Swiatek each time this stretch of the year comes into view.

Nevertheless, if there is one thing that the world No 1 has exhibited throughout her still-young career, it is that there are few – if any – challenges that are above her.

But with the games of big-serving Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina tailor-made for grass-court tennis, the 2024 Roland-Garros champion and world No 1 may once again find herself in the unusual position of being an outsider for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

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