How the WTA Tour’s top 3 players can get even better: Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff on the charge
Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff finished the season as Grand Slam champions and in the top three of the rankings but they could get even better.
That is according to Martina Navratilova, who has identified how each player could take their game up a notch.
Navratilova celebrated the state of the women’s game and believes these three top stars are the pinnacle of the sport right now.
While Swiatek ended the year as No 1 and won her fourth Grand Slam at the age of just 23, Sabalenka and Gauff also enjoyed incredible seasons.
Sabalenka was twice a Grand Slam finalist and took the world No 1 ranking for the first time after he run at the US Open.
Gauff won the US Open just weeks after a breakthrough WTA 1000 title and moved up to a career-high No 3.
Navratilova believes that if she can rest up in the off-season and find a way to be more aggressive, Swiatek can become unstoppable.
“It was amazing the way she came back after the US Open, where by her own admission she was tired,” Navratilova said.
“And then she pulls an 11-0 finish out of the hat. I hope she takes a good vacation and gets herself ready for next year. The thing I’d target is getting to the net. I mean, she’s gotten better but there’s still a long way to go on the volley front, particularly that first volley — the transition volley, which is probably the most difficult shot in the game.
“I think that’s where she can improve the most. Iga still has a tendency to run back to the baseline when she really should be going forward. And if she gets that going? Watch out. She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.”
Navratilova believes that Sabalenka can improve her game by moving better.
“At her best, Sabalenka can play you off the court with her powerful groundstrokes and serve,” the former world No 1 said.
“But I think she can still improve her movement a little bit, get quicker off the mark, find a little more explosion. She needs to focus on getting herself in position to hit those big balls — because when she’s set, she’s deadly. So, going forward, I think she can move up to the ball quicker, get a little bit higher on the trajectory so she gets a higher point of contact with the ball.
“Last year was a big one for Aryna; she really came a really long way in terms of maintaining her composure in difficult moments and the physical aspect, as well. She needs to keep that going. She’s the oldest of these three, but at 25 she’s still fairly young on the total commitment scale. It takes time to really reach your potential — and, believe it or not, she hasn’t reached it yet.”
Much has been made of Gauff’s improvement on the forehand, her clear and obvious weakness and Navratilova says that aspect of her game will remain key.
Navratilova added: “The next step for Coco? What happens with the forehand? Will she start hitting more forehands down the line or rolling it crosscourt? Late in the season, I noticed she was hitting those loopy forehands more often. I really look forward to what [coach] Brad [Gilbert] tries to do — if he tries to change the forehand and her extreme western grip. Because when she was trying to hit low balls with her [existing grip] the ball sometimes was bouncing before it got to the net.
“I think that’s where the grip is so limiting — it’s physically impossible to get under the ball when it’s that low with that grip. Change it to make it a little bit easier to hit those low balls — or maybe she just learns to re-grip and use a slightly different stroke. One of those two things has to happen because it’s just too much of a handicap — she misses too many balls when they’re really low.”
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