Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek has extended her winning streak to 17 matches with a first-up victory at Melbourne Park. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • tennis

Barty helps Swiatek to Pole position in women’s tennis

John Salvado January 17, 2024

Igo Swiatek has paid tribute to Ash Barty for her inadvertent assistance in inspiring the Pole’s ascension to undisputed world No.1.

Australian Open title favourite Swiatek extended her winning run to 17 matches on Tuesday by successfully negotiating a tricky first-up assignment against 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Swiatek’s reward for the 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 win is another difficult clash in the second round with feisty American Danielle Collins, best known in these parts for losing the 2022 final to Barty.

Two months after that title triumph, Barty made the shock decision to retire, gifting Swiatek the No.1 ranking.

“Ash changed my mindset going into 2022 and I think that was a breakthrough for me,” said the 22-year Swiatek, who has won three of the past four French Opens and the 2022 US Open.

“I was a top-10 player but it was still tough to play against her and to win points and she really motivated me.

Ash Barty
 Ash Barty helped inspire Iga Swiatek to become the best player in the world. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS 

“It’s not obviously the only reason, but I felt like it’s one of the reasons I later became No.1 because I just felt I have more variety because I started practising the kind of stuff just to be able to play against her, getting back slices and everything.”

Some of those lessons were put into practice when the pair enjoyed a friendly hit-out at Melbourne Park last year.

“It was really annoying losing against her and playing against her because, you knew how she was going to play in terms of the tactics and the placement,” said Swiatek, who lost her only two competitive matches against Barty.

“But she did it so well, there was nothing you could do. It really annoyed me. I wanted to get better … yeah, she really motivated me.”

Kenin pushed Swiatek early on Tuesday and served for the opening set in the 10th game but was unable to press home the advantage, leaving the door open for the free-swinging Pole.

Kenin’s run to victory at the 2020 Australian Open included a heart-breaking triumph over then-world No.1 and title favourite Barty in the semi-finals. 

Swiatek will now turn her attention to the challenge posed by Collins, after the American beat three-time major winner Angelique Kerber 6-2 3-6 6-1.

Competing in her first major since 2022 Wimbledon after giving birth and spending 17 months off the tour, Kerber pushed Collins all the way.

But the 35-year-old German ultimately suffered the same first-round exit as fellow new mum and two-time Open champion Naomi Osaka, with Collins proving too powerful as she racked up 43 winners to 13.

In other matches on Tuesday, dual Open champ Victoria Azarenka scored a 6-1 4-6 6-3 win over Italian Camila Giorgi to land land a blow for the growing number of mums on tour.

Third seed Elena Rybakina took the first step towards atoning for last year’s finals loss to Aryna Sabalenka with a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 victory over former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova.

Angelique Kerber
 Angelique Kerber’s Melbourne Park comeback has been short-lived, the 2016 champ out in round one. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Russian 14th seed Daria Kasatkina was made to work hard by American Peyton Stearns before advancing 6-2 3-6 6-2.

Other first-round winners were Italians Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Martina Trevisan and Denmark’s Clara Tauson.

In the night session, women’s third seed Elena Rybakina was too good for Czech Karolina Pliskova, while No.5 Jessica Pegula from the US started her Melbourne Park campaign with a convincing win against Canadian Rebecca Marino.