The Iga Era?
While many things have remained constant in men’s tennis, the long anticipated changing of the guard has undoubtedly occurred on the WTA Tour. Serena Williams, who was, at times, an unstoppable force in the Women’s game, retired this year, leaving an opening at the top of the game. Many thought that Ashleigh Barty would fill the void, especially after winning this year’s Australian Open. But Barty, much to everyone’s surprise, retired at just 25 years old to pursue other things. So who will stand at the helm of Women’s Tennis? Enter Iga Swiatek. The age of Serena Williams has finally come to an end, ushering in a new one, which I believe will be the ‘Iga Era’.
Iga Swiatek showed huge promise from a young age, which largely went unnoticed in a sport filled with young superstars. Swiatek won 3 ITF titles when she was just 15 and had entered the Top 200 at just 17. In 2019 she played her first major in Melbourne and reached Round 2. Just 2 months later she reached her first WTA Final and claimed her first Top 10 win. However, only the most die-hard tennis fans would have heard of Swiatek at that point. It was not until the Canadian Open that year, where she beat Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka that Swiatek began to turn heads.
The rest, of course, is history. Swiatek won Roland Garros in 2020 and this year won Roland Garros and the US Open, finishing the year as World Number One, with more than double the points of her nearest rival, Ons Jabeur, who had a very strong year herself. Swiatek is just 21 and is already showing a level of consistency not seen on the WTA since Serena Williams’ prime. There has been a myriad of Grand Slam winners in the women’s game over the last decade, but most have struggled to stay in the Top 10 since. Garbine Muguruza, Emma Raducanu, Sloane Stephens, Elena Rybakina and Naomi Osaka are clear examples of this.
Swiatek, however, seems different. Very few active players (just Naomi Osaka and Venus Williams) have won more Grand Slams than Swiatek, and neither look very likely to add to their total, whereas Swiatek will be the heavy favourite to win at least 2 of next year’s 4 Grand Slams. Before writing this weeks’ blog, I wanted to make predictions for the WTA Tour, like I did on the ATP Tour, but the circumstances are so different on both tours. Swiatek will almost certainly dominate once again.
She will, however, face challenges along the way. I believe the player who will provide the biigest will be Caroline Garcia. Garcia had a very strong finish to 2022, winning the WTA Finals, and is arguably more talented than Swiatek technically, merely lacking the physical attributes of her Polish rival. I believe 2023 will be the year that Garcia finally makes a deep run at a Grand Slam, with her best chance being at Wimbledon, where she will look to take advantage of the fast conditions.
Many will be wondering whether Emma Raducanu will make her way back up the rankings. Having won a Grand Slam, it would stand to reason that Raducanu should be ranked higher than 76. However, I just can’t see it happening. Her confidence seems to have been shot by a difficult year, and her game doesn’t seem to have the potency it did in 2021. Raducanu is still a capable player, but her target should be to break back into the Top 50, rather than repeating any Grand Slam glory, which appears unlikely for the time being.