Since her shock retirement after winning the Australian Open this year, Ash Barty has had some pretty big (or small as the case may physically be) shoes to fill. Not simply from a playing point of view, although that is a pre-requisite, but also as a tennis role model.
Our Ash always carried herself with grace, dignity and poise, on and off the court. She was a humble champion that we, the tennis-loving public, adored.
Upon hanging up her racquet, Barty left an irreplaceable gap in the tennis world. The inevitable question then arose:
Who would take up her mantle?
In swooped Iga Świątek.
On her performances alone, Świątek has dominated the 2022 calendar season.
Between February and June, Świątek amassed an incredible winning streak of 37 matches in a row, picking up six titles along the way. In total she won eight titles overall, losing just one final.
Indeed, it was Barty who potentially inspired Iga’s winning streak, as she beat the Pole in Adelaide before the Aus Open. Świątek then embarked on a 15-match winning streak against Top 10 players, falling only to Aus Open finalist, Danielle Collins in the semis. Following Barty’s retirement and Iga replacing her as the new world number 1, she took the opportunity and ran with it.
Not only that, the Pole won 22 sets 6-0 in 2022. Only the great Serena Williams has “bagueled” more opponents, with 25 in 2013.
Indeed, her game is one to be reckoned with. Once a purely offensive player, Iga has added another string to her bow by becoming one of the best defensive players in the world. She now has the ability to chase down and retrieve more balls with great athleticism before turning defence into attack.
As well as her playing ability, which is plentiful, Świątek has other champion-like qualities.
Iga has used her position as a positive influence throughout the year to raise awareness for the war in Ukraine.
During her US Open victory run, Iga wore a ribbon with Ukraine colours to show her support for the country, stating, 'the war is basically right next to my country'.
Not only that, Iga has also participated in and organised charity events to benefit her home country's embattled neighbour.
In July, she hosted "Iga Świątek and Friends for Ukraine", a one-day charity event in Warsaw, Poland, raising over $500,000 for the Ukrainian youth impacted by the war. Iga played exhibition matches with a number of stars, while retired Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina served as the umpire.
And ahead of this year's US Open, Swiatek participated in the "Tennis Plays for Peace" exhibition alongside a whole host of tennis superstars, including Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe, Carlos Alcaraz, Coco Gauff, Leylah Fernandez and many others. The group raised more than $1.2 million for GlobalGiving's Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.
For many, the pressure that comes with being the number 1 player in the world could’ve been too much to handle. We’ve seen former number 1, Naomi Osaka, struggle with form lately and Daniil Medvedev’s number 1 ranking didn’t last more than 16 weeks. In fact, aside from Serena Williams, the women’s number 1 spot has been a topsy-turvy affair in the last 22 years. There have been a total of 21 different women’s number 1s since the year 2000. That’s basically a new world number 1 every year.
If Iga’s 2022 season is anything to go by, this doesn’t appear to be the case for the young Pole.
She finished the year with a win-loss record of 67-9, second only to guess who? Serena Williams (again) in 2013. In fact, so dominant a season was Iga’s, that she earned more than double the points of world number 2, Ons Jabeur.
Securing the year-end number 1 spot for the first time in her career, Iga looks set to dominate the tennis world for many years to come.
So who could challenge Iga?
When looking at her nearest challengers in the world rankings: Iga has won her last 2 matches against Ons Jabeur, her last 3 against Pegula, is 1-1 with Garcia this year and lost both of her last 2 matches against Sabalenka, but had won 4 in a row this year, prior to the WTA finals.
At 21 years of age, Iga has not only established herself as the best in the women’s game, but she’s also on track to enter the ranks as one of the all-time greats.
With both Barty and now Serena out of the game, the two greats have (inadvertently) passed the torch on to Świątek and she has grabbed it with both hands.
Truly Iga Świątek is a worthy successor to Barty. A humble champion we can all get around.