November 24, 2023

Open Court


No. 1 ranking still a surreal concept for Iga Swiatek

MIAMI, Fla. – It wasn’t like winning Roland Garros, where there was exultation, a ceremony, speeches – in short, pomp and circumstance commensurate to the occasion.

But becoming the world No. 1 for the first time in your career, a couple of months short of your 21st birthday, is inarguably an even bigger accomplishment.

It doesn’t just mean you defeated the seven opponents you faced in that fortnight. It means you are at the very top of your profession.

And that’s what Indian Wells champion Iga Swiatek did Friday night even if the circumstances were rather low-key.

On April 4, a new No. 1

With reigning No. 1 Ashleigh Barty retiring this week, and announcing she will remove her name from the rankings to make room for a new No. 1, Swiatek needed to win her opening match at the Miami Open to secure the spot when the new rankings come out after the Miami Open.

Swiatek knew what was at stake. Once the announcement of Barty’s retirement became real, there was no escaping the potential scenarios.

And it came in the middle of a big-enough challenge as it was: coming from winning a huge title in the California desert and having to travel across the country and adapt quickly to completely different conditions.

And yet, Swiatek navigated that minefield like … well, like a No. 1.

Here’s some of what she had to say in a press conference after the match.

An easy win over Viktorija Golubic

The 20-year-old, after a first-round bye, defeated the very capable Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 6-0 in her Miami opener.

The handshake – and the match itself – couldn’t have been more … ordinary.

Looking at the handshake beteween the Asics stablemates, you would never have known about the … huge thing that had just occurred (All screenshots from Tennis Channel)

And once she did that – and, of course, quickly put on her sponsored watch – there was a bouquet of flowers presented to her by Miami Open tournament director James Blake and American former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport.

It was a low-key moment. The crowd was the usual sparse Friday night gathering (let’s just say there are … options in Miami on a Friday night).

Tournament director James Blake and American former No. 1 Lindsay Davemport were out to commemorate the big accomplishment.

But most didn’t know. Even the standard post-match interview on court made no mention of it.

But once it became clear it was a momentous moment, the crowd got behind it.

From No. 2 to … No. 1 in just a few days

Swiatek, who barely had time process arriving at a career-best No. 2 after winning the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, now will find herself officially at the top of the WTA heap a week from Monday.

And yet, there is still a tournament to be won, one she has barely begun contesting.

To be sure, it’s an extraordinary situation. There were only a few journalists who stayed for her press conference, which felt like a lack of respect for the achievement. But Swiatek likely didn’t care.

She is still processing, and taking it all in.

Iga Swiatek during a post-match press conference, having secured the No. 1 ranking after Miami.

And the thing is, she has a third-round match against the tricky American Madison Brengle to prepare for on Sunday – and four more after that, if she hopes to complete the rare “Sunshine Double”.

There will be time to fully appreciate what she’s achieved once the tournament is done, and there’s a bit of a window before the clay-court season begins.

But Swiatek’s goal now isn’t to become No. 1.

It’s to stay No. 1.

And with 21 match wins this season – the last 12 consecutively – and the type of tennis she is producing in 2022, it’s hard to think of a more worthy successor to Barty in the current landscape.

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