Column: Iga Swiatek adds to her impressive season by winning Indian Wells title
Iga Swiatek’s first attempt at lifting the BNP Paribas Open trophy was a no-go. The crystal sculpture was too heavy, its shape too bulky for her to raise it off the table where it sat gleaming in the Sunday afternoon sun.
Swiatek raised her index finger to the crowd, as if to tell the fans who were celebrating her triumph over Maria Sakkari to wait a second, she’d give it another try. It required a full-body effort, but the 20-year-old from Poland eventually got a good grip and held up the winner’s prize, a scene that’s sure to play out again and again over the next decade or more.
“My mind is blown,” she said of her 6-4, 6-1 victory, but it made perfect sense for the woman who has studiously improved her game and relied on a sports psychologist to help fortify her mental approach since she shocked the tennis world by winning the 2020 French Open as an unseeded entry.
Taylor Fritz of Rancho Palos Verdes picked up the biggest victory of his career Sunday, defeating Rafael Nadal for the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles title.
Swiatek, who will earn $1,231,245 for her work at a tournament that’s considered a notch below the four Slam events, has won 11 straight matches. She’s 20-3 this season, the most wins on the women’s tour. That includes earning a title at Doha, Qatar last month before she came here, where she defeated three-time Grand Slam singles champion Angelique Kerber in the round of 16 and two-time Slam singles champion Simona Halep in the semifinals before she prevailed over a below-peak Sakkari.
“Well played. You’re a great champion, a great person,” Sakkari told Swiatek during the trophy ceremony. “You deserve this — you deserve more.”
Swiatek will rise to No. 2 in the world rankings Monday behind Ashleigh Barty of Australia, matching Agnieszka Radwanska for the highest ranking achieved by a Polish player. She seems the only person surprised by that.
“At the beginning of the tournament, I wouldn’t even think about winning, honestly. Of course, you have to believe in yourself, but I’m a realistic person, so,” she said, leaving her thought unfinished.
“Yeah, for sure, especially winning after playing so well in Doha is giving me a lot of confidence and kind of belief that I can do it because, I wouldn’t think of myself as someone who’s ready to play two tournaments in a row and win it. For sure hard work is paying off. Yeah, I mean, I felt for the couple of days the pressure on my shoulders a little bit more because of the stage of the tournament, and obviously how big it is. As you’re saying, it’s the biggest tournament after Grand Slams. The last couple of days have been really stressful for me. That’s another reason why I’m proud of myself that I made it.”
Though Indian Wells is known as tennis paradise for its lush surroundings and relaxed atmosphere, the gusty winds Sunday created conditions that were less than blissful.
Both women struggled to hold serve in the first set, exchanging breaks until Swiatek held for 3-2. Swiatek broke Sakkari’s serve in the next game, capped by a double fault by Sakkari, and took a 4-2 lead. Sakkari broke Swiatek and held serve for the first time to make it 4-4, but Swiatek won the next game when Sakkari netted a return. Swiatek won the set on her third chance, when Sakkari hit a backhand into the net.
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Sakkari saved two break points in the second game of the second set but couldn’t hold off Swiatek in the fourth game. Sakkari sabotaged her own chances by double faulting twice in that game to allow Swiatek to take a 3-1 lead. Swiatek, hitting a comfortable stride, gained another break for 5-1 and clinched the match on a forehand winner.
“I really believe I took a step forward this week, even though I lost today,” said Sakkari, the highest-ranked Greek woman in the history of the women’s tour. “It was a week that will have a special place in my heart. I know it sounds kind of weird because I did not win the tournament, but I felt like I improved.”
Swiatek’s next challenge — other than lifting the lighter replica trophy she will receive — is to do this all over again. She’s entered in the Miami Open this week, and expectations will be high. “Every tournament is a different story,” she said.
Most of hers have had happy endings. Many more will in the future.
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