Iga Swiatek’s praise for ‘undisputed leader’ Ashleigh Barty as she opens up about ‘great loss for the sport’

Ashleigh Barty and Iga Swiatek after a match

Iga Swiatek has revealed that Ashleigh Barty’s retirement “hit her hard” as she also discussed whether or not she would consider following in the Australian’s shoes and retire at a young age.

Barty opted to walk away from tennis in March last year on the back of her Australian Open title run as she quit the sport at the age of just 25.

Her retirement paved the way for Swiatek to rise to No 1 in the WTA Rankings and the Pole went on to dominate women’s tennis for the remainder of the 2022 campaign as she won the French Open and US Open while she also enjoyed a 37-match winning streak from February until July.

In an interview with Poland’s SportoweFakty, Swiatek was full of praise for Barty and she admitted that she was taken aback by the three-time Grand Slam winner’s decision to retire as it had a big impact on her career.

“I didn’t fully understand what had happened,” the Pole said. “Ash was the undisputed leader, she played the best tennis – even though I knew where she would hit, it was still difficult to cope with her shot.

“At first, her departure was an abstraction to me. I felt it was a great loss for the sport. I have great respect for her. Besides, I had an idea of what the end of her career would mean for me. I had been No 2 for just a few days, and suddenly there was an opportunity to move to the top of the rankings.

“It hit me hard because I never thought such a scenario would be possible. Today we live from day to day, we do not think about the future every moment. The thought comes to mind: ‘God, I could soon be the best in the world in my discipline’.”

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She has proven over and over that she is a worthy world No 1 as she has now finished consecutive years as the world No 1 while she is also a four-time Grand Slam.

Would Swiatek, who is just 22, consider following in Barty’s footsteps and retire in her 20s?

“No one knows what the future will bring. We can’t control everything,” she said. Ash had achieved so much that she had every right to take such a step. I don’t know if I would have the courage to make a similar decision. I would probably keep playing, keep trying.

“On the other hand, I know that each year can be more challenging. Currently, we have a lot of responsibilities outside the court, we are constantly observed and assessed.

“Nobody said that we have to play until the age of 35, when we will barely be able to walk because of the wear and tear on our bodies. The other thing is that I don’t want to let it wear out like that. That’s why sometimes I have to make difficult decisions, judged by others.”