The making of Iga Swiatek, the teenager tipped to become the next tennis superstar
Iga Swiatek from Poland reacts after beating Nadia Podoroska - SHUTTERSTOCK
Whatever happens to Iga Swiatek in Saturday's French Open final, she can think about a breakthrough year - and one that started with an off-season training block at a David Lloyd club in Cambridge.
Swiatek lives in Raszyn, a suburb of the Polish capital Warsaw, and is trained by a compatriot in Piotr Sierzputowski. But she has a British mentor in Nick Brown, a 59-year-old whose own career peaked when he ousted Goran Ivanisevic from Wimbledon in 1991.
In December she went to England for a week of training. Brown also coaches the Cambridge University tennis team, so he recruited the captain - Michal Kaminski, who happens to be Pole - as a batting partner.
"The members loved seeing what we were doing," Brown told Telegraph Sport, "and some of the younger kids knew who Iga was." She said hello to them and took pictures. It was a great experience for her to see someone train at this level. "
At that point, Swiatek was ranked 60th in the world with a resume that included a run to the fourth round of last year's French Open as well as a Junior Wimbledon crown. Not bad for a girl who only turned 19 in May.
Swiatek (right) celebrates with second-placed Leonie Kung from Switzerland - Swiatek (right) celebrates with second-placed Leonie Kung from Switzerland - AP
But in 2020 it has reached a new level. First with another appearance in the fourth round at the Australian Open in January and now with this extraordinary performance in Paris, where she lost zero sets and only 23 games on the way to the final.
"When I spoke to Piotr outside Paris, he said Iga was having problems," said Brown, recalling a post-lockdown record that was two wins out of five games.
I said, 'Look, she has fond memories of juniors here [where Swiatek won doubles in 2018 and also reached the last four in singles]. As a gamer, when you return to a place where you've been successful, you'll get a good vibe.
“Beating [Top Seed] Simona Halep changed the game. I just said, "Warm up, get out, walk along the river, relax, have an ice cream, get away from tennis." The danger of the big event is that you are dealing with so much attention. But then this year is a strange tournament with so few fans and hardly any media personally - maybe that will help. "
Brown had just finished a seven-year tenure as the UK's Fed Cup captain when he was approached by the Polish Tennis Federation in 2005. “There was a lot of fighting at the time, so they wanted an outsider to come in and raise the standard.
“Your total budget at the time was around £ 1 million. I remember my interview in a two bedroom apartment in a building that was left over from World War II - and that was their headquarters. They are very resourceful because they have to be. And like many people with this background, Iga has an incredible hunger for success. "
First, Brown helped develop a group of world-class doubles in Mariusz Fyrstenberg, Marcin Matkowski and Lukas Kubot, all of whom would regularly qualify for the ATP Finals. He also kept an eye on Jerzy Janowicz, the 6ft 8in giant who took Andy Murray to four sets in the 2013 Wimbledon semi-finals.
However, Swiatek is made up of different materials. After watching the effortless demise of Nadia Podoroska in Thursday's semifinals, Eurosport expert Mats Wilander suggested, “I really believe Iga can be the one. I think she's there several times to become a Grand Slam champion. "
Brown saw her for the first time in the 2018 French Open juniors, where she defeated Sofia Kenin - her opponent in Saturday's final - in the quarter-finals. A few weeks later, they were working together on a grass pitch in Walsall to prepare for Wimbledon.
"She had never played a competitive game on grass before and she thought I hated that stuff. I said," Take some time. "She rolled up her sleeves and hit the top seed on the first round. And then she improved on each match - adding a bit of variety to the slice and getting more into the net to end the point. I could see how quickly she took information on board. After she won the tournament I asked her again about weed and she said, "I love it now."
“Our bond really started there. She has a team of people around her in which everyone trusts each other and there are no egos - something that also applies to Iga herself. She reminds me of someone like Pat Rafter, just a sensible boy who, despite his success, has never changed. She was 16 when she started building a WTA ranking, but insisted that she wanted to quit school. Last year she only played 12 tournaments so being in the top 60 was pretty impressive.
“I think Coco Gauff helped. The main focus was on Coco so it helped Iga develop calmly. At the beginning of the year she used her yard ship and her drop shot a lot. But she just beat it in Paris - the statistics show that her average speed is up there with Dominic Thiem. It was great to see. And the exciting thing as a coach is that there is still so much room for improvement. "
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