Iga Swiatek, the best player in the world, who could win her second Roland-Garros title on Saturday, has always shown a combative temperament, from her first hits on the tennis courts in the Polish capital.
“She was a girl who wanted to learn to play as fast as possible. And when she learned that, what mattered most to her was winning,” recalls Artur Szostaczko, her head coach.
“She was a fighter … I knew that if I went to the tiebreaker, there was nothing to worry about, it wouldn’t break,” the 51-year-old told AFP.
Szostaczko is still training on the same dirt track where the future Polish star grabbed his first racket and tried to hit a ball against a concrete wall while his older sister practiced nearby.
“Left, right, he kept running to catch the ball, he was amused,” he says in front of this multicolored graffiti-covered wall at the Warszawianka Tennis Club.
“Usually a child struggles to hit even one or two balls in a row, when he has been able to make dozens of shots,” adds the coach, who, like Swiatek, always wears a cap on his head.
Szostaczko followed the two talented sisters – whose father Tomasz competed in rowing at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – for five years, until Iga turned 10.
A decade later, Iga Swiatek is at the forefront of women’s tennis, with the title at Roland Garros 2020 and an uninterrupted series of 34 victories on the circuit.
If she manages to beat Coco Gauff in Saturday’s final, the young Pole will match Venus Williams’ record for the longest winning streak among women since 2000.
Artur Szostaczko is proud of his former student. He always has in mind the image of this funny boy, always with features, always on the move, with phenomenal coordination and the eternal smile on his face.
“I taught him to play aggressively because that’s the future of tennis. He’s doing it in a fantastic way today,” he said.
– The Swiatek Sisters –
The Swiatek sisters later moved to Michal Kaznowski, then coach of the Mera Tennis Club, also in the Polish capital.
Remember that Iga always wanted to be treated on an equal footing with her older sister.
“Iga got very angry with me once when I suggested an exercise and gave Agata eight balls to play with and only six to her,” the 35-year-old told AFP.
“She went to see her father to tell him that she wanted to have as many (balls) as Agate,” she smiles, while calling her rivalry “healthy.”
According to him, Agata had the same talent and even had the advantage of being taller, but her injuries wiped out the chances of what could have been Poland’s response to the Williams sisters.
The young Swiatek continued to train under the direction of Michal Kaznowski until the age of 15.
They were inspired by the famous phrase of Serena Williams when she was 11 years old, who when asked how she wanted to be, replied: “I wish others were like me.”
“We followed this idea … to develop his own style, his own personality,” says Kaznowski.
They looked for models in men’s tennis, avoiding looking for any of the female players for fear that the Iga might one day meet.
“We wanted her to be able to play against the best players, without stopping,” he explains.
“As we can see, it worked. She’s up there, and now everyone wants to be like Iga.”