Iga Swiatek motivated by Aryna Sabalenka rivalry – ‘I had a similar feeling playing against Ash Barty’

Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek has welcomed the rivalry with Aryna Sabalenka, saying the world No 2’s form is keeping her on her toes and motivating her to improve.

World No 1 Swiatek and Sabalenka have met twice in the past month and the former won their first encounter in the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, but the Belarusian got her revenge in the Madrid Open final over the weekend as she won in three sets.

The Pole currently leads the head-to-head record 5-3, but there is no doubt that Sabalenka has closed the gap and Swiatek feels the pressure from the world No 2 is helping her to up her game.

“Having someone playing so well like Aryna is motivating. It keeps me constantly ready and on my toes,” she told Eurosport.

“It really struck me two years ago when I played against Ashleigh Barty, I had a pretty similar feeling playing against her.

“So, in practices I imagine how she is playing the slice and I try to pick it up and give it back. It is a bit like that, but I am glad that have good players and we can motivate each other.”

Swiatek is the defending champion at this week’s Italian Open as well as the French Open and she is no doubt the favourite for both titles despite Sabalenka and a few other players’ form.

However, the 21-year-old is not focusing on any tags.

“I don’t think I’m going to care about that. I don’t want to think about how people view this sort of stuff,” she said.

“It’s pretty easy for me to cut off all the social media or media and try to focus on my job of playing tennis.

“But it’s never easy and sometimes there are ups and downs. Last year I was able to cut it off and play my game. I’ve enjoyed playing on clay so hopefully I can focus on that.”

READ MORE: ‘WTA has a Big Three’ – Women’s tennis on the up as Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina dazzle

After suffering a shock fourth-round exit from the Australian Open, Swiatek has quickly regained her form as she now 20-3 since the first major of the year, having won titles in Indian Wells and Stuttgart.

She added: “The season is long, so I’m not always expecting to be on that right path. I am aware that we are living a stressful life and there are going to be struggles.

“But at the beginning of the year, it was a little bit tougher than usual and I managed to work on that and to get through it.

“When I came to the Middle East to Dubai, I found my rhythm a little bit and I managed to keep that. Hopefully it’s going to last long enough; I’m keeping it pretty simple and will take it step by step.”