World number one Iga Swiatek said Friday a “peaceful” off-season had left her more focused heading into the Australian Open as she targets her first Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park. The Polish top seed is in imperious form, dropping just one set in five wins at the lead-up United Cup mixed-teams tournament in Perth. She enters the opening Grand Slam of the year as favourite, on a 16-match win streak that included tournament victories at the China Open and the WTA Finals. “It was nice to play some high-quality matches against the top players (at the United Cup),” she said. “I realised that I’m feeling pretty confident, a little bit better than last year. Hopefully this feeling is going to stay with me.”
Swiatek’s win over Jessica Pegula to lift the WTA Finals title in Cancun returned her to the top ranking spot she has held for much of the past two seasons.
Still only 22, she said she had learned to better handle the pressures that come with being world number one, and approached her off-season differently.
“I would say it was more peaceful. I literally could just focus on practising and resting,” she said.
“I was really committed. I didn’t feel so, I don’t know, tired.
“I didn’t feel like I was burdened with this off-court stuff. I could really just focus. Like every day was really 100 percent quality. That’s why I feel like was a little bit better.”
Swiatek has four Grand Slam titles to her name — three French Opens and a US Open. But her best performance in Melbourne was reaching the semi-finals in 2022.
She will open her account with a rematch of the 2020 Roland Garros final against Sofia Kenin that earned her a first major title.
Kenin went into the clash as the reigning Australian Open champion, but was beaten 6-4, 6-1 and subsequently skidded down the rankings.
But the American has risen from outside the top 200 a year ago to be ranked 38 and Swiatek is wary.
“My first Grand Slam final was against Sofia and now we’re playing in the first round. It’s pretty weird. That’s how our life journeys kind of went apart,” she said.
“I know she’s been playing some solid tennis. It’s not going to be easy. I’ll just get prepared the same way as usual.
“We’re going to talk about the tactics. We haven’t played in a while.”
There will be no let-up for whoever wins, with a second-round clash looming against either 2016 Australian Open winner Angelique Kerber or 2022 Melbourne Park finalist Danielle Collins.
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