“I already had many opportunities to play tournaments as a defending champion and for me it’s not about defending something. It’s about giving everything that I have and playing my best, trying to do my best. Step by step. Day by day. I don’t focus on my final result. I focus on my next match and every match is a different story,” Swiatek wrote to The Associated Press in an interview conducted via email ahead of the year’s last major, which begins Monday in New York.
“I’m sure this approach that I worked on with my psychologist helps me compete at the highest possible level,” she continued. “It just works for me at this stage, so I’m not gonna change it.”
A year ago, Swiatek arrived at Flushing Meadows with a bit of uncertainty, something she hadn’t experienced much since supplanting the retired Ash Barty atop the WTA rankings in April 2022.
Swiatek had gone 4-4 following a 37-match, six-title winning streak ended at Wimbledon. She was not thrilled about the slightly lighter tennis balls used by women at Flushing Meadows (that’s been changed now; they’ll be using the same equipment as the men this time). She still was learning to deal with the many distractions presented by a place where she had never made it beyond the fourth round.
“As always,” Swiatek says now, “it’s all about doing the same things; having the routines and adjusting to different conditions.”
Indeed, by the end of those two weeks, there she was, holding the trophy.
The 22-year-old from Poland now owns four Grand Slam titles in all, including three at the French Open.
“You know Iga, how she plays in finals,” 2022 U.S. Open runner-up Ons Jabeur said. “Just playing better at the right moment, at the important points. She knows, like, exactly what to do. … She’s working on a lot of things that get in her way. She’s really set the bar very high. It’s great for our sport.”
Jabeur meant the on-court success.
But there is a lot going on away from the court, too.
Swiatek will draw attention to issues that matter to her, and those tend to be issues she thinks affect other people.
“First of all, I’m always trying to just be a good human being and that’s the most important for me. I think being a leader requires constant adjustments and thinking it through. It’s not easy when everybody expects something from you … and sometimes it’s not good enough for some people,” she told the AP. “I’m trying to maintain balance here and remember I’m just human and there are topics I want to speak about and there are some I prefer to keep for myself. I feel I have some influence thanks to my work and I don’t want to kind of waste it, but still stay healthy, kind to myself, to take care of myself. It’s a process of learning constantly how to maintain this balance and use my voice to change something at the same time.”
The war in Ukraine, for example. She pins a blue-and-yellow ribbon representing that country’s flag on her hat when competing.
Or player well-being. She stayed away from the Billie Kean King Cup Finals last November and explained it was because they were held immediately after, and a long trip away from, the WTA Finals.
Or online negativity. After a recent comeback victory, she said, “The amount of hate and criticism that me and my team get after even losing a set is just ridiculous. I want to kind of encourage people to be more thoughtful when they comment on the Internet.”
Or mental health. She is donating some of her prize money to charities in that sphere.
“Modern lifestyle, technology, everyday rush, makes it difficult to take care of ourselves,” she said, “so basically everyone needs to be reminded sometimes of a power of just everyday little things that helps us be healthy and happy.”
Swiatek recently began representing Team Visa, a platform that supports Olympians and Paralympians, as well as other athletes, and she said she plans to compete at the 2024 Paris Games in singles and in mixed doubles with 2021 Wimbledon semifinalist Hubert Hurkacz.
“The idea of being a kind of global ambassador is special to me,” she said. “I’m trying to use my voice and become a role model for other young people.”
Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002.