MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — As well as everything is going so far for Iga Swiatek — the No. 1 ranking; three Grand Slam titles overall; a tour-high eight trophies and a 37-match winning streak in 2022 — the 21-year-old from Poland is always looking to improve.
One aspect she is striving to change at the moment? Being less tough on herself.
“I’m always going to have this part of me that is a perfectionist. When I’m not feeling comfortable on court, it’s kind of hard to not be harsh,” Swiatek said at Melbourne Park, where she is the top-seeded woman for the Australian Open and scheduled to play Jule Niemeier in Rod Laver Arena as the tournament gets started Monday.
“On the other hand, the most important thing is kind of to find this balance that, on court, for sure I want to get better and better,” Swiatek continued, “but off the court, the things that happen on the practice day don’t have to influence my whole day and my whole mood.”
A year ago, Swiatek reached the Australian Open semifinals for the first time.
“We care so much and we give ourselves to this sport, that it’s sometimes tough to find this balance” between pushing oneself and easing up, Swiatek said. “But I’m getting better at it, for sure.”
She has won two of the past three major championships — at the French Open in June, then the U.S. Open in September, when she needed three sets to come back and beat Niemeier in the fourth round.
Niemeier, a 23-year-old from Germany currently ranked 69th, has made only three Grand Slam appearances, but those include a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon in July.
Here are some other things to know about the Australian Open:
There are plenty of storylines worth following over the next two weeks, but one underlying theme in the run-up to the tournament is who is no longer playing tennis — and who will be joining them in retirement soon. Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open singles champion and owner of four other Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles, already had stopped playing singles but says she will quit doubles after this Australian Open. Sania Mirza, who has won three Grand Slam titles apiece in women’s doubles and mixed doubles, said this event will mark the end of the road for her, too. Their departures follow more high-profile ones in 2022 from Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Ash Barty, who won the Australian Open last January and stepped away in March at age 25. Others who retired last season included Andrea Petkovic, Monica Puig, Kirsten Flipkens, CiCi Bellis, Christina McHale, Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kevin Anderson, Sam Querrey and Gilles Simon.
The release of the first five episodes of the Netflix docuseries “Break Point” — the tennis equivalent to “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” — came right before the start of the Australian Open. It seems to be made more for the non-fan or casual fan than serious fans of the sport, but it is going to be a talking point, for sure. Some players have been watching it, such as two-time major finalist Ons Jabeur, who said: “I skipped to my episode. … I hope they can show more of inside the locker rooms and what people want to see.” But not everyone is offering a review: Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is a central figure in Episode 5, said he hasn’t seen any of the show yet.
Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), formed by Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil in 2020, recently announced its first executive committee, which includes that duo plus these six others: Paula Badosa, Hubert Hurkacz, John Isner, Ons Jabeur, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Zheng Saisai. The group also put forth what it called its five “guiding principles,” including taking collective action, getting players’ their fair share of the business, protecting players’ rights, protecting players from abuse, and advocating for the best structure of the sport.
For the first time since 2020, the Australian Open is not expected to have any sort of COVID-19 restrictions in place. Testing, vaccines, masks and quarantines will not be required for spectators or players. Arenas can be filled to capacity after there were limits — and sometimes even no fans allowed at all — in 2021 and 2022 amid the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Tournament director Craig Tiley said players will be encouraged to stay away from Melbourne Park if a test shows they have COVID-19 but will not be required to check for the illness or report positive results.
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