2023 WTA Season Preview: Will Swiatek’s Dominance Continue?
The 2022 tennis season was one of joy and despair. Legends of the sport such as Roger Federer and Serena Williams called time on their playing careers while young guns such as Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek etched their names in history books. The Spaniard became the youngest ever men’s world number one, while the Polish star became the first player from her country to win a major singles title.
The 2022 WTA season was remarkable for Swiatek. Starting the season ranked nine in the world, the 21-year-old climbed to No. 1 after making the semi-finals of the Australian Open and winning the Indian Wells Masters and Miami Open. In the first half of the year (including the conclusion of Roland Garros), Swiatek played in the final of six of the nine tournaments she entered, winning all of them. Her pace slowed somewhat in the second half of the year, with the Pole *only* appearing in three finals, winning two of them.
But enough about the past. What about the future? 2023 is a new year, so let’s go through some of the major talking points ahead of the new season.
Will Swiatek Remain No.1?
While Swiatek has had immense success on both clay and hard courts, her time on grass has been less successful. In 2022, she won more matches on clay (18) than anyone else on tour, losing just one match to Caroline Garcia at Warsaw. On hard courts she won 47 matches last year – in this century only Kim Clijsters (59 in 2003 and 51 in 2005), Agnieszka Radwanska (52 in 2013), Jelena Jankovic (50 in 2008) and Lindsay Davenport (49 in 2001) have won more in a calendar year.
However, her performances on grass are a stark contrast. Swiatek has won just six main draw matches in her career on the surface and has never reached a WTA-level tournament quarter-final.
The Emergence of Caroline Garcia
While Swiatek did show signs of slowing down towards the end of the 2022 season, French player Caroline Garcia’s year went in the opposite trajectory. Starting the season ranked 74, Garcia moved up 70 places over the course of the season – the highest rise by a player in the WTA rankings in 2022 amongst the current top 20.
During the first 20 matches of the season, Garcia won just 45% of her matches, but in the next 44, her win rate would rise to 79.5%.
Over the course of the season, Garcia would go on to become the second French player to win the WTA Finals after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005 and the fourth player to win the title at the WTA Finals after turning 29 (Martina Navratilova – 1986, Jana Novotna – 1997 and Serena Williams – 2012, 2013 and 2014). In 2022, she topped the leaderboards for aces (394) and won 80% of her service games. She also hit the most forehand winners last year with 759, 64 more than any other player.
If anyone were to knock Swiatek off her perch in this upcoming season, the 29-year-old is one of the leading contenders.
History Beckons For Gauff
As Swiatek and Garcia had incredible seasons of their own, youngster Coco Gauff – who turned just 18 in 2022 – had a whirlwind season herself. Playing both singles and doubles throughout the year, Gauff moved into the top 10 of both categories, participating in both events (singles and doubles) at the WTA finals held in 2022.
Gauff is the 14th player to be part of the top five before turning 19 since the WTA singles rankings were introduced in 1975.
As the Australian Open begins later this month, the 18-year-old has a chance to become the fifth female player in the Open Era to secure the Australian Open title before turning 19 after Hana Mandlikova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Martin Hingis.
In 2019 when the American was fresh in the circuit, she announced herself to the world by beating her idol Venus Williams at Wimbledon, drawing comparison among tennis aficionados to Venus herself. People were taken back to the time when Williams as a 17-year-old shocked the world by reaching the final of the US Open in 1997.
Qinwen the Next Big Thing?
At the start of 2022, Chinese star Zheng Qinwen was ranked above 100. By the end of the 2022 season, she was part of the top 30. Amongst the current top 30 women’s players, only Gauff (18 years, 9 months, and 23 days) is younger than Zheng (20 years, 2 months, 28 days).
Born in the same province as Li Na, the only Chinese player to feature in the top 10 since WTA rankings were introduced in 1975, the 20-year-old won 74.5% of the points with her first serve in the WTA Tour 2022 (Grand Slam tournaments excluded), only Naomi Osaka (75.5%) had a higher ratio (min. five matches played).
She was rightly named by WTA as the newcomer of the year in 2022.
Liudmila Samsonova Ready for the Top 10?
One of the other players who enjoyed a good run towards the end of the 2022 season was Liudmila Samsonova. Since Wimbledon, the 24-year-old won 20 matches and lost just six, giving her the highest winning ratio at WTA level (76.9%). Only Swiatek (37 wins between Doha and Wimbledon) won more consecutive matches in 2022 than Samsonova (13 between Washington and the US Open).
Even though Samsonova had a defining year, she has failed to appear in a grand slam quarter-final in her career. Amongst the top 20 ranked players only Samsonova, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Ekaterina Alexandrova have failed to make it to a grand slam quarter-final to date.
There would be no better way for the Russian to announce her entry into the top 10 than make it to the last eight in a grand slam this year.