Iga Swiatek enjoyed a friendly hit with Ashleigh Barty at Melbourne Park on Saturday and later mused on the way last season could have unfolded had the Australian not shocked the tennis world by announcing her retirement.
Pole Swiatek inherited the world number one ranking when Barty retired in March, just months after winning last year’s Australian Open and ending her country’s 44-year wait for a home champion.
Swiatek proved she deserved the number one spot with victories at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows but said she would have liked to have had more opportunities to go toe-to-toe with Barty.
“Well, for sure when she retired I felt like she still has the best tennis out there,” top seed Swiatek told a news conference. “So I was pretty sad I’m not going to be able to compete against her and maybe win.”
Swiatek, 21, said she was still trying to work out Barty’s game, particularly her variety of slices.
“Even her book she says she has five types of slices. I don’t know how that’s possible,” Swiatek said with a smile. “I still haven’t figured out one type.
“But yeah I have huge respect for Ash. She really gave me huge motivation at the beginning of last season to get even better. I’m grateful for that.”
Swiatek, who meets Jule Niemeier in the first round of the Australian Open, said she will never know if she would have been able to displace Barty at the top had she not retired.
“Many things could happen and I wouldn’t be here,” Swiatek said. “On the other hand, maybe I would get through them and still be at the same place. So I don’t know.”