The balance between the physical and mental side of sport has always been vital, with the ability to balance expectation, pressure, self-doubt and indeed self confidence equally as important as the skillset you bring to the table.
It’s undeniable that Iga Swiatek was the star of 2022, going 67-9 for the year on the way to eight titles, two slams and over 300 days at number one in the world.
When a player has been as dominant as Swiatek was, anything less than claiming a title can be seen unfairly as failure.
Speaking after her fourth-round exit at the Australian Open (to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina no less), Swiatek addressed a subtle shift in mindset that may have created cracks in the armour.
“I felt the pressure, and I felt that I don't want to lose instead of wanting to win,” Swiatek said in press after that loss.
“So that's a base of what I should focus on in next couple of weeks.”
Swiatek spoke of the pressure sapping her energy in the early part of the year, with an uncharacteristically heavy defeat to Jessica Pegula at the United Cup in Sydney in the lead up to the Open.
“The past two weeks have been pretty hard for me. So I felt today that I don't have that much fight anymore,” Swiatek added.
“I felt like I took a step back in terms of how I approach these tournaments, and I maybe wanted it a little bit too hard.”
Former Polish star and Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska spoke about the challenges that come with being the hunted as opposed to the hunter in reference to Swiatek.
“Whether you want it to or not it means more pressure. It’s going to be a challenging year for her defending everything,” Radwanska said.
“It’s not easy being number one. Everyone wants to beat you but even though she’s gone out early here, I’m still expecting her to have a great season.”
Radwanska spoke about the need for all players to accept that you don’t have to be perfect all the time.
“All players need to except tennis is up and down and it won’t always be your day.
“You don’t always play 100% but it doesn’t mean a crisis. At the top if you aren’t 100% someone will beat you,” she added.
She referenced 2022 as a sign that Swiatek will take the challenges in her stride this year.
“When you have all this winning at the start of the year and lose a couple of matches like she did, people ask questions but she came back last year and won the US Open so that’s all the evidence we need.”
Australian’s Jason Kubler and John Millman echoed that sentiment as well when discussing their own journey through the game.
“When I grew up, I thought you had to be very good every day, but sometimes you have to tough it out and just be there. Sometimes opportunity comes just from being there and fighting through,” Kubler said.
Millman also reflected back on some childhood success as a moment where he learned a similar lesson.
“An old coach Mal Anderson up in Ipswich gave me good advice. I had just won a title, but I didn’t play all that well.
He said “They’re the good ones. It’s easy to win when you are playing well, but it’s harder to get results on your bad days.”
If further evidence was required, Swiatek has provided it emphatically in Doha this month, dropping just five games on the way to her first title of the year.
Of significance in the run was a crushing victory over Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-0 in the final, a result that completely turned the tables on Sydney in January.
Swiatek set an equal open-era record for the fewest games lost on the way to a title, and took bagel sets off the world No.42, 11 and 4 in three consecutive matches.
Iga’s bakery served up 22 bagels last year and she already has four in 2023, with her words post the Australian Open already ringing true.
“I'm going to try to chill out a little bit more. That's all.”