Iga Swiatek speaks during a press conference at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Agence France-Presse
Indian Wells: Iga Swiatek, learning to navigate the expectations piled on a world number one, says she’s looking forward not back as she launches her title defense at the Indian Wells ATP and WTA Masters.
The 21-year-old from Warsaw took tennis by storm in 2022, her early-season victories including prestigious wins at Doha, Indian Wells and Miami.
She’d finish the year with two Grand Slam titles at the French Open and US Open, but said on Wednesday she is trying to “not really think about what happened last year and remember that’s a different story.”
Swiatek was toppled by Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open round of 16, and after defending her Doha WTA title last month she was stunned in the Dubai final by Barbora Krejcikova.
“Sometimes it’s also important to remember that you can lose,” Swiatek said. “There are other players who are also playing great tennis. Last season spoiled me a little bit.”
She admitted that a stream of easy match wins -- she hasn’t played a three-setter this year -- might have let a little complacency creep in.
“I still have to kind of remember that I’m going to have tight matches and to fight for every ball,” she said.
While she and her coach assess each defeat and work to make adjustments, she said she tries to tune out criticism from outside.
Swiatek herself was pleased with her play in Doha and Dubai -- noting that reaching both finals was, in fact, a strong result even if her loss to Krejcikova, a former French Open champion now 30th in the world -- drew scrutiny.
“Last year, before all this huge streak, before winning all these tournaments, I would be so happy with the result, but because of these comments right now I felt like ‘Oh, that’s not enough,’” she said.
After a first-round bye she will open against either Alison van Uytvanck or Claire Liu. She could face a potentially tricky third-round clash with 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada.
Sabalenka will open against Evgenya Rodina, who beat France’s Alize Cornet 6-2, 7-5. Home hope Jessica Pegula is seeded third and Ons Jabeur, a semi-finalist here in 2021 is seeded fourth in her first tournament since the Australian Open. The Tunisian missed the WTA’s Middle Eastern swing after undergoing minor knee surgery.
Meanwhile, Brandon Nakashima took advantage of two double-faults by John Isner in an error-filled game to collect the match’s only service break and went on to reach the second round at the BNP Paribas Open with a 7-6 (7), 6-3 victory in the all-American contest Wednesday.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was in the stands as play got started at the year’s first Masters 1000 event, a combined tournament for women and men.
Nakashima, a 21-year-old from San Diego, saved one set point for 2018 Wimbledon semifinalist Isner, who is 37, en route to grabbing the opening tiebreaker. And Nakashima, who won the ATP Next Gen Finals last year, broke to lead 4-2 in the second set after nearly 1 1/2 hours of play, taking his four points in that game via that pair of double-faults, one forehand by Isner that found the net tape and didn’t make it over, and another that sailed long.
In all, Isner, the 2012 runner-up at Indian Wells, double-faulted seven times, part of his total of 25 unforced errors - 18 more than Nakashima. Next up for the 48th-ranked Nakashima is the tough task of facing 2022 U.S. Open champion and former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, who is on a 14-match winning streak and won the past three tournaments he entered.
That run of success includes a win over Novak Djokovic, the 22-time Grand Slam champion not in the field at Indian Wells because he can’t travel to the United States as a foreign citizen not vaccinated against COVID-19. The player Djokovic shares the record with for most majors won by a man, Rafael Nadal, also isn’t in the desert; he has been sidelined since injuring his left hip flexor at the Australian Open. Medvedev, like other seeded players, received a first-round bye.
On Wednesday night, Gael Monfils - a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist who is 36 - was scheduled to compete for the first time since August, facing Jordan Thompson. Monfils hasn’t played since a foot injury last August.
In other Day 1 action, Evgeniya Rodina, a 34-year-old who is ranked 427th and had played just one tour-level match in 2023, ousted 68th-ranked Alizé Cornet 6-2, 7-5; 67th-ranked Wang Xinyu beat 37th-ranked Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-1; wild-card entry Dayana Yastremska defeated Anna Bondar 6-3, 6-4; Aliaksandra Sasnovich got past Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 7-6 (5); Anna Blinkova beat Ann Li 6-1, 6-2; and 18-year-old Linda Noskova defeated Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6 (7), 6-1.