After failing to defend her title at the US Open with a fourth-round loss last month, then subsequently dropping to the No. 2 ranking after a 75-week reign on top, it was unclear what was next for Iga Swiatek.
While several of her peers in recent years had struggled under the weight of expectations after milestone titles, the 22-year-old Swiatek had been the model of consistency since her first major victory at the 2020 French Open. But now things seemed a little less certain. Ahead of her opening-round match at the China Open last week, Swiatek said she was feeling “really anxious” and she later said she struggled with confidence and self-belief since her early exit in New York.
But despite all the emotions and lingering doubt, Swiatek not only won her first match in Beijing, but she went on to win the tournament. Dropping just one set and defeating top-10 players Caroline Garcia and Coco Gauff en route to the final, Swiatek routed Liudmila Samsonova 6-2, 6-2 on Sunday in just 69 minutes for her first 1000-level trophy of the year.
Swiatek couldn’t help but tear up at the end of the match.
“I cried a little bit after because I know how tough it was for us to kind of, I don’t know, stay positive and stay focused on the future,” Swiatek told reporters later. “Maybe not for us, but for me. I felt huge support from my team during these past weeks. I was really just grateful for that.”
— wta (@WTA) October 8, 2023
It marked her fifth title of 2023, and she became the first woman to win five or more titles in back-to-back seasons since Serena Williams did so in 2014 and 2015. She also became the first player in WTA history to win six 1000-level titles before turning 23.
“I feel like this tournament will give me confidence for the rest of my career that there’s always a chance to overcome and work on what you do or what you feel,” Swiatek said. “You can always get better. Sometimes it’s pretty easy, but we tend to make it more complicated in our heads.”
Swiatek will now turn her focus to the WTA Finals, where she will have a chance to reclaim the world No. 1 ranking from Aryna Sabalenka. If she were to do so, or take over the top spot at any point, she said she would be better prepared for the role this time around.
“I think if I learn and take lessons from it, it’s going to be easier,” Swiatek said. “But for sure the first thing is getting there. I’ll just try to do that. For now, step by step. I’ll just celebrate this trophy.”
Here’s what else you might have missed from around the tennis world this week:
And after officially clinching the remaining bids, Ons Jabeur, Karolina Muchova and Marketa Vondrousova celebrated together with — what else? — a video on Instagram. Filmed and posted by Jabeur, who nabbed the eighth and final spot for the year-end tournament, the three-time major finalist is seen saying, “Girls, let’s go, it’s this way,” before panning to Muchova and Vondrousova. “Cancun, it’s this way,” Jabeur then says as Vondrousova shouts, “Yes!”
Sinner reverses his luck
After pulling off a dominant 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory over Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals at the China Open, Jannik Sinner entered the tournament’s final on Wednesday with momentum on his side, but with history very much against him.
Facing 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, Sinner had lost in all six of their previous meetings, including during two finals this season. But the 22-year-old Sinner had an answer for everything that came his way and he won the hard-fought battle 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2).
“Daniil, thanks for letting me win at least one match,” Sinner said jokingly during the trophy ceremony. “We have had some very tough battles, especially this year. Thanks for making me a much better player. I have been training a lot to beat you.”
🏆 CHAMPION IN BEIJING 🏆
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 4, 2023
The victory marked Sinner’s third title of the year and ninth overall. He is now at a career-high ranking of No. 4 and, after reaching the Round of 32 in Shanghai on Saturday, qualified for the ATP Finals for the first time. Sinner later said reaching the year-end event, which will be held in his native Italy, was his “main goal of the season.”
“I’m very happy I’m officially going to be in Turin in front of the home crowd there,” Sinner told the ATP. “It means a lot.”
Medvedev, Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic have also secured their spots for the tournament, with four berths remaining.
It’s been a challenging year for 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal. The 37-year-old hasn’t played since January due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery, and he revealed the 2024 season would likely be his last on tour. With such a long layoff from play and with retirement looming, it seemed unclear if and when he would actually be able to return, but Nadal silenced the doubters last week by posting some practice footage on Instagram.
Hitting the court at his academy in Mallorca, Spain, Nadal can be seen moving side-to-side and hitting forehands and backhands, and, best of all, appearing to be pain-free. As the Australian Open’s account commented on the post, “2024 loading.”
Don’t call it a comeback
Former French Open finalist, five-time major doubles champion and world No. 5 Lucie Safarova retired from the sport in 2019. She has since gotten married, welcomed two children and has been living her best, no-longer-a-professional-athlete life. She has repeatedly said she has no plans of making a comeback to the sport.
Remember everything you just read because this is where it might get confusing.
Last week, the 36-year-old signed up to play in an ITF event in Reims, France, as a wild card. She won her opening-round match and was also slated to play in the doubles draw alongside her 17-year-old niece Emma Dvorackova. However, Safarova was forced to withdraw ahead of her second-round singles match.
“Sadly, I won’t be able to continue my run at the [tournament] in Reims,” Safarova wrote on Instagram. “Although I only wanted to use my time on court as preparation for an exhibition tournament later this month, and to play doubles with my niece, my participation has been qualified as an ‘official return to professional tennis’ and it needed to be signaled to the ITF prior to competing.”
So, to summarize, Safarova had to withdraw from a professional tennis tournament because she doesn’t want to play professional tennis. And that concludes the non-comeback comeback of Lucie Safarova.
World No. 20 turns 21
Rising American star and US Open semifinalist Ben Shelton turned 21 on Monday. Shelton was given not one, but two cakes in the players lounge at the Shanghai Masters event. And sure, his cake-cutting skills need a little work, but he still seemed to enjoy the celebration all the same.
Happy 21st Birthday @BenShelton 🥳🎂
— Rolex Shanghai Masters (@SH_RolexMasters) October 9, 2023