Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka: the start of a great rivalry

It doesn’t often happen in sport that the winner and loser are equally satisfied after a final; so that moment in Miami was really special. Iga Swiatek had won the final 6-4, 6-0 against Naomi Osaka, it was his 17th consecutive victory and his third success at a Masters tournament (Doha, Indian Wells) this year; after the retirement of Ashleigh Barty, the 20-year-old Polish is now number one in the world rankings. She had really dominated Osaka, especially in the second set, and yet the Japanese said: “Sad result, great day.”

It’s also because the two finalists met at the 2020 Australian Open and had a little chat about tennis and life over dinner. As we know, Osaka thinks intensely about tennis and life, and that’s one of the reasons why she was satisfied despite the loss. The conversation at the time was about Swiatek wondering if her job was the right one for her, if life didn’t have another path for her, if she shouldn’t go to college instead.

At the time, Osaka advised Swiatek to postpone her university visit and instead check out what she could still learn on the tennis court – learning from each other and exchanging ideas with each other could create a wonderful rivalry, and that’s it. : Osaka won the US Open in the fall of 2020 and took a stand against police brutality and racism; Shortly after, Swiatek won quite surprisingly, she was number 54 in the world ranking at the French Open, which took place later due to the corona pandemic.

“It feels good to chase after something, I missed it,” says Osaka

Everything seemed to be going well for the two of them, but later they both noticed that tennis and life sometimes gave them difficult trials. Osaka has struggled with the pitfalls of this profession, in which failure is visible to the whole world and that failure then has to be explained to the whole world in mandatory press conferences – in Indian Wells a few weeks ago she did not lost only after a fan called (“Naomi, you suck!”) their playful line and was eliminated.

Many experts, including many former players, have advised Osaka to consider whether tennis is really the right career for her. Now Osaka has said she decided it was because she preferred the Slayer role and wanted to be back in the top 10 by the end of the year – ahead of Miami at the 77th place: “It feels good to chase after something; I missed that.”

Swiatek’s issues were also mental, but more on the pitch. After the Roland-Garros victory, she was suddenly known, but so were her style of play and her weaknesses. She was no longer the world No. 54, who takes no one seriously, but a Grand Slam winner her opponents are prepared for – and they knew it: Swiatek was at odds with herself if a few points went wrong. as she would have liked. Oh what: she argued when things didn’t go her way in a rally. The strategy was therefore: extend the individual points and show him before the important moments how important the next rallies will be.

Swiatek won the California and Miami tournaments. “Sunshine Double” they call it in the United States

What happened? Well, Daria Abramowicz from Poland is her sports psychologist, and she recognized that for a healthy mind, you need an extremely fit body. Sure, careers and players are hard to compare, but it was a bit like Angelique Kerber 2015: her trainer Torben Beltz drilled into Kerber’s physical condition to literally and figuratively widen his shoulders.

Swiatek is now confident in her fitness, especially when it comes to big and longer rallies, and that gives her the confidence to be able to push consistently, even against a four-time Grand Slam winner like Osaka. Her trademark, which can also be admired on Sundays: the counter-attack, where she bends her knees so much that her short skirt sometimes even touches the ground. Now opponents have even more respect for Swiatek. Osaka said after the final, “I tried a lot, but she has an answer for almost everything right now.”

Swiatek won the California and Miami tournaments; “Sunshine Double” they call it in the United States. A sunny double was also a winner and loser on Sunday – and Swiatek said of the beaming duo: “It could be the start of a wonderful rivalry.”

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