Iga Swiatek made short shrift of Camila Giorgi on the John Cain court at Melbourne Park, somewhat less short shrift of Fiona Ferro a couple days later on the Margaret Court court. You see in the progress of the 19-year-old tennis star from Raszyn, which is a village near Warsaw, the making of a great champion. She already is a Grand Slam champion; in a few months, when spring is back and Paris is all in flowers, she will be defending the title she won at the French Open last September. However, there are champions and champions.
Misses Giorgi and Ferro are both great competitors, but, some 10 years more into their careers than Miss Swiatek, they play a predictable game, with power and skill but not much gray matter. Consider Tom Brady or, in the days of yore, Yogi Berra: smarts to read the opposition and choose from your own arsenal to outfox it, and discipline, what they call mental toughness, to adjust quickly and not beat yourself when things go awry.
To be sure, even the weak-heads, let alone the head cases, are great players in this physically demanding and mentally taxing, emotionally draining sport. But over time, you see the learning curves, the adaptive skills, the endurance and discipline that are mastered, or at least met, by those who will make a deep mark on the sport’s history and culture.
Despite her young age, Miss Swiatek appears to be on the way to demonstrating this simple but rare combination of qualities. Regardless of how deep a run she makes at Melbourne Park, she has assured her fans that she will be around for a while, and always worth watching.
One of her top fans is Mr. Pleszczynski, a tennis and basketball standout in high school, who was saddened when Iga Swiatek’s compatriot Agnieszka Radwanska retired three years ago. In her time the finest tactician and shot-maker on the women’s tour, the nimble Miss Aga won plenty of trophies though no Slams, likely because of her single identifiable weakness: lack of power. At five-eight, you would not call her small, but she is not built for sending the big winners and service aces, and on the last day of a Slam, even in the women’s draw, you are likely to be facing someone who can do that.
Her grace and finesse on the court, however, and her uncanny intelligence about where everything that matters is — herself, her opponent, the ball — kept Miss Aga close to the top of the rankings for 10 years. She was the most famous tennis player from Krakow since Jadwiga Jędrzejowska. Popular and admired worldwide, humanitarian and an unapologetic Catholic, global sports ambassador for Poland and for a time face of Cheesecake Factory, she was an delight to watch because her game was so varied, at once supremely shrewd and exquisitely elegant. Her sister Urszula was wonderful too, but she remained at the respectable level of Camila Giorgi or Fiona Ferro.
Iga Swiatek shares Agnieszka Radwanska’s qualities, and she can also hit with power and pace, ensuring that she is likely to be among the top seeds in every tournament she enters, and many of the finals. She has the same mental toughness Miss Radwanska displayed, based on the dictum: stay calm, even in losing matches, and keep your mind on what works rather than on what did not work a point ago. That is what America’s Sofia Kenin evidently did not do in the second round, where her evident frustration undermined her hope of defending her title.
Brad Gilbert, a great tennis man and a leader in sports psychology, says: forget perfection, aim for functionality. That is a sensible attitude for most people, even if they do not play tennis.
In public life, America’s Founding Fathers thought along these lines, but today’s political types think otherwise: forget the nation’s interests and aim for the biggest train wreck possible. But let it be known that there are public courts near the Capitol, if the White House courts are taken, and we, the Friends of Rose Park (NW) and the Tennis at Fort Lincoln Park Athletic and Community Association (NE), are here to help. Free of charge. As a public service. Equipment provided (not shoes); masks required.
Iga Swiatek, seeded 15th, took the first set from Simona Halep on Sunday, which in Australia they have when we are still Saturday, retrieving shots even some men might have let go and pounding forehands to the baseline to keep her opponent on defense. But Romania’s mighty mite (she is five-six), is a thinking woman’s player too, and more experienced than her taller rival, and she found a way to turn defense into a fast-paced attacking game that repeatedly caught the fleet-footed Miss Iga off balance. The second set quickly went to Miss Halep, who maintained her pace through the deciding third. She will meet America’s Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, and we will see much of Miss Swiatek for quite a while, and it will be good.
They had wonderfully happy and enthusiastic crowds at Melbourne Park during the first week, but due to a health scare they are going into lockdown for a few days, with the hope they can reopen for the semis and finals; so the athletes will play in empty stadia. Still, the show goes on and Mr. P. will be distracted from the dismal news out of Washington, and I say that is one of the best reasons for sports.