Iga Swiatek’s absence from the Miami Open due to a rib injury “might be a good thing for her tennis”, believes Mats Wilander.
Swiatek lost comprehensively in the semi-finals of last week’s Indian Wells to Elena Rybakina, and talked after that match of the problems she had experienced in coping with the muscle strain.
It looked doubtful she would compete in Miami, and that proved the case as she announced her withdrawal on Wednesday.
In addition to this injury issue, Swiatek has had problems with her tennis too, losing twice to Elena Rybakina this year already, and also to Barbora Krejcikova and Jessica Pegula.
Defeat is something the world No. 1 has been unaccustomed to in the last year, but Wilander thinks there is a reason.
“I think the explanation why Swiatek hasn’t been winning as much this year as she did last year, it’s because the players have figured out how to play her,” Wilander told Eurosport.
“I think it started with Pegula in the United Cup in Sydney just before the Australian Open. Of course, it was continued by Rybakina in the Australian Open and then again continued by Rybakina in Indian Wells. So I think that’s the first thing.
“And then the second thing, I’m glad that she’s getting a time to take a break. I think it comes at a great time in a way – of course, nobody wants anybody to not feel 100% – but for her tennis, I think it might be a good thing.
“Because people keep asking her, ‘Hey, last year you won 37 matches in a row. This year you’re not winning 37. What’s wrong? What’s happening? Can you not handle the players that I just mentioned, the big power when they go hard to your forehand on a faster [court]?’
“And I think for her it would be a great time to step away, start practicing on a clay court, take her time and get back in it. Because really, right now what’s important for her is to do well in Roland-Garros. Of course, winning matches before is important, but Roland-Garros is when she needs to walk on the court, feel like one of the favourites, because if she feels like it, she’s going to be one of the favourites.
“So it comes at a good time. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get to see her in Miami. I’m not going to get to see her because I’d love to see her solve the problem (against the power players), but maybe it’s better for herself to take a couple of weeks off.”
Wilander expanded on how difficult Swiatek would have found it facing Rybakina whilst being burdened by a rib issue.
“It’s nearly impossible to hit a tennis ball when you have a rib injury, for sure, and especially when someone is hitting the ball really hard to you because there is only so much that you can deflect [on the] slower courts in Indian Wells, she had to feel 100% physically, so she can add some power at times against Rybakina, and she wasn’t able to.
“So I think the rib injury explains everything.”
Chris Evert, also speaking to Eurosport, agreed with Wilander on the emergence of these “power players” who are now challenging – and beating – Swiatek – but she also questioned the media’s role in the Pole’s rare losses creating such shockwaves around the game.
“I think we’re at fault,” Evert began. “The press, journalists and TV commentators are at fault because we talk about her dominance and let’s be careful with this.
“But when she has numbers like that (the 37-game streak in 2022), it appears that she’s dominating, and that’s going to put pressure on anybody.
“But at the same time, I think two players in particular have emerged: [Aryna] Sabalenka with the improved serve, even though the serve let her down at Indian Wells, was playing with more focus, not getting down on herself, being more consistent, getting more serves in. She’s a different player this year.
“And then Rybakina, she’s solid as a rock and she’s got such great technique that very little can go wrong under pressure.
“I think two players have emerged playing at a different level and challenging Iga.
“But that being said, we’re so quick to say someone’s dominant and then we’re so quick to say ‘Oh, they’re in trouble. What do you think? Their career is in trouble?’
“No, Iga is still the No. 1 player in the world. No matter how you look at it, she still is the player to beat.
“It’s hard because champions are stubborn and she wins. Iga wins 99% of her matches playing like Iga.
“But against the power players, she and her coach have to devise a plan. But I’m sure they’re going to go back to the drawing board and figure it out.”