With the clay season now in motion, Iga Swiatek looks to take full advantage of her favorite surface and solidify her new position as the world number one.
It’s no secret that Iga Swiatek is a lover of the clay court, having won her maiden Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2020, without dropping a single set the entire tournament. At just 18 years of age, the Pole became the youngest French Open champion since her idol Rafael Nadal in 2005, setting herself an incredible start to her career and making history in the process. Now the question remains, what makes Iga Swiatek so successful on the clay surface?
Growing up with clay
Born in the capital city of Poland, Warsaw, Iga Swiatek’s tennis career began in her early teenage years when she trained at Mera Warsaw tennis club. Sporting a range of quality clay courts, this is where Swiatek’s familiarity with the surface was first established, as she learned to adapt her playstyle to suit the ball speed and pace of the court. Thus, it is no surprise that Iga Swiatek’s favorite surface is clay, though she has been successful on hard court and grass surfaces too.
Optimal playstyle: topspin, sliding skills, kick serve
As mentioned, Iga Swiatek has molded her playstyle to suit the slow pace of the clay court surface, describing her approach to it as encompassing “a big serve, topspin, and backhand down the line.” When it comes to taking full advantage of the clay surface, there’s no doubt that topspin is one of the most prominent factors that give you the edge, as we’ve seen countless times through the success of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Iga Swiatek is no stranger to this, sporting an extreme western grip that delivers a maximum forehand topspin rate of 3453rpm, a figure that contests the King of Clay himself.
However, it takes more than topspin to dominate the surface, and players need to move around effectively and use the court’s unique feel to maneuver themselves efficiently. As far as clay goes, sliding is a crucial component of experiencing success on the surface. Iga Swiatek attributes much of her success to her ability to slide across the clay surface, which has enhanced her ability to win on those courts and developed her sliding skills to translate them onto hard courts and grass courts.
In addition to her extraordinary topspin skills and movement abilities, the world No.1 also incorporates a strong kick serve that takes full advantage of the clay surface. She also mixes this up with an excellent slice serve that is often used for her second-service game, taking away any perceived advantage from her opponent. The slow nature of the clay-court allows the ball to sink into the ground a moment longer than on other surfaces, allowing the ground to absorb the ball and the spin to take more effect as it winds up and propels forward, resulting in a higher but slower bounce.
Extraordinary start to the year
The 2022 season of tennis kicked off well for Iga Swiatek as she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open for the first time in her career. Around late February, her streak of success truly began when she secured the Qatar Open for her 4th WTA singles title. It was all uphill from there, as the 20-year-old Pole went on to snatch the Indian Wells title in California, only to follow it up by claiming the Miami Open title as well without dropping a single set.
Having claimed the rare “Sunshine Double” feat by securing both WTA 1000 events in the US, the world No.1 showed complete dominance on the hardcourt surface, proving that she is far more than just a clay-court expert. With that said, it is now time for the tennis world to prepare for the clay-court season and familiarize themselves with the surface as the ever-looming French Open comes into sight. For Iga Swiatek, she won’t need any extra time familiarizing herself with her favorite surface, but will rather be looking to translate her recent hardcourt success onto the courts that she loves most. She may have already taken the world by storm, but Iga Swiatek’s best is yet to come!