World No 1 Iga Swiatek relishes fierce rivalry as she heads into 2023

Pole knows she will be a target for Ons Jabeur and others after World Tennis League in Dubai

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Iga Swiatek will have a target on her back once again when the new tennis season commences and the world No 1 insists that “rivalry is welcome” as players like Ons Jabeur attempt to dethrone her in 2023.

Swiatek has had one of the most dominant seasons in recent years on the WTA tour, clinching eight titles in 2022, including two Grand Slams, and enjoying an uninterrupted reign at the summit of the rankings since she rose to the top spot last April.

Tunisian Jabeur is the world No 2 and has openly declared her ambition to become Africa’s and the Arab world’s first ever world No 1 next season.

At the moment, Swiatek has more than double the number of ranking points that Jabeur has, but the Wimbledon and US Open finalist is also in a strong position to gain ground due to the fact that she rose to No 2 without having any points from three of the four Grand Slams in 2022.

Swiatek, who helped guide Team Kites to a runner-up finish in the World Tennis League (WTL) in Dubai this week with three singles wins and one defeat, is well aware Jabeur and others will be coming for her in 2023 and the 21-year-old Pole is relishing the opportunity to form rivalries with her peers.

“I think we all need somebody who is going to push ourselves to the limit,” Swiatek told The National at Coca Cola Arena on the sidelines of the WTL.

“It gave me a lot of motivation last season when I played against Ash (Barty) in Adelaide. For the next couple of months, before she retired, my main goal was to learn how to play against her a little bit and maybe be able to beat her.

“For sure rivalry is welcome, I can totally take a lot from that. So I think it’s great that we have so many people we can compete against.”

Swiatek has spent a portion of her pre-season training in Dubai in the build-up to the WTL and says she enjoyed the inaugural edition of the mixed team event.

She didn’t make it to any of the post-match concerts though but added that she could be lured to attending if any of her favourite artists were invited to perform.

“They need to get Taylor Swift or Adele, so then I’m going to come,” she said with a laugh.

“I think it’s a great event and it has huge potential for the future. Hopefully I’m going to be invited again, I would really look forward to that. For sure we’re having fun and it’s a totally different vibe having teammates on the bench.”

Swiatek is feeling refreshed after a holiday in the Caribbean, in which she managed to switch off completely from tennis – something she says is a rare accomplishment for her, with the sport always playing in the back of her mind.

Elena Rybakina celebrates in her match against Iga Swiatek. Getty

She says eating good food was the highlight of her holiday and she also enjoyed reading an Italian saga that focused on a Sicilian family in the 19th century. Bookworm Swiatek teased she will be launching a reading challenge soon, to engage her fans and encourage them to read along with her.

The three-time major champion says her pre-season training was mainly spent focusing on technical aspects of her game she wanted to improve, and it was pretty much business as usual, despite her new status as the leader of the tour.

“It wasn’t any different to any other pre-season that I had. In terms of goals I’m still kind of figuring that out. Because I usually set them before New Year’s, so I kind of combine that with New Year's Eve and with the whole world actually having new goals,” she added.

“It’s kind of weird because I’ve never been in such a situation where I had such a great season. So for sure I need to approach next year a little bit differently. But on the other hand my main goal is to continue what I’ve been doing last year and not really come back to all these matches that I played, because that may really kind of make me lazy.

“But still focus on just the next one and remember that in tennis anything can happen in any tournament. I just want to keep being consistent. But the specific goals I think they’re going to come when I’m going to be closer to the tournament.”

Swiatek will begin her 2023 campaign in Brisbane where she and Hubert Hurkacz will be leading Team Poland in the newly-introduced United Cup.

Swiatek’s Kites lost to the Hawks in the WTL final on Saturday, as Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina pulled off the upset over the Polish world No 1 6-3, 6-1 in the opening clash of the evening.

Felix Auger-Aliassime got the Kites back on track with victory over Alexander Zverev in straight sets but the Hawks sealed the deal 37-25 in their favour, thanks to the efforts of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Dominic Thiem in mixed doubles.

“I’m happy that I won something this year. It’s been a rough year for me, obviously I haven’t played in six and a half months, so to finish the year off like that is amazing for me and the whole team,” said Zverev, who injured his ankle during his Roland Garros semi-final against Rafael Nadal and hasn’t competed officially since.

Updated: December 25, 2022, 7:35 AM
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