“I can’t see anyone beating Iga many times” – Barbara Schett’s in-depth analysis of women’s tennis
“Tennis needs personalities, characters like Coco Gauff that vocal enough to come up with statements. Most of the players are afraid to talk about politics”, says Barbara Schett -a big fan of Gauff- when is time to analyze the North American teenager who brings political topics on court whenever she can.
Schett finds the right words for each of the tennis player she is asked about. The Austrian is a studious, a keen observer, and an intelligent analyst of today’s tennis.
In an intrerview with CLAY during the Diriyah Tennis Cup in Riyadh, the Eurosport comentator and former professional player during the 1990s and 2000s thinks there’s no way Iga Swiatek stops dominating the tour, that Barty made the perfect decision by leaving pro tennis, and asks that Raducanu be given more time to find the talent she has.
An in-depth look by an expert at what 2022 left behind in women’s tennis, and what to expect in 2023.
– How much did you enjoy the 2022 season?
– It was an interesting one, starting with the huge surprise of Ash Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open. A bit of a shock to a lot of people. Iga (Swiatek) got automatically to the top and it was so impressive how dominant she was during the whole year. As soon as Barty left away, I started wondering how Iga was going to handle the situation as the new number one in the World. And she did it extremely good: 37-match winning streak, six thousand points over Ons (Jabeur). She’s the most complete and consistent player. I think she will have another great season, maybe not with those amazing records. I can’t see anybody who is going to beat her. She’s mentally and physically the strongest, with the least ups and downs.
– Have you spoken to Barty recently?
– Not lately, but obviously I know what has been going on with her because I’m living in Australia. She’s enjoying a lot living in her home country without having to travel, not living in the light line. Having a good time, playing a lot of golf, she came out with a book lately. She will come to the Australian Open to do some corporate stuff there and I’ve heard she’s opening a tennis academy, so she still wants to be involved in tennis somehow. I think it was the perfect decision for her. To leave the sport of tennis in such a high. She wins Wimbledon, she wins the Australian Open. That’s phenomenal.
– She didn’t like dealing with too much pressure?
– It was not about the pressure, she just didn’t enjoyed it as much. Being away home for many months… She didn’t love the circuit. After she won Wimbledon, she said that she felt she already achieved absolutely everything and there was nothing else that would give her more pleasure. And then she wins the Australian Open. It’s great to step away when you are the number one in the World. That’s pretty tough to do it.
– We have witnessed an era in male tennis with players that won’t get sick of winning every single thing, many times as they possibly can. A bit of a contrast of lasts years of women’s tennis with champions like Barty and Osaka not enjoying as much.
– Ash is happy with where she is at. She wants to have a family at some stage. She doesn’t define herself through winning matches and Grand Slam titles. She wants to be at home, with a family, have her dog, spend time with her niece. I value that. I think is great, is not for everyone. Then you have the Rafas, the Rogers, the Novaks who wants to win and win and win. It’s just not everybody piece of cake and she felt that it was just the perfect timing to step away.
– A bit of a shame there was no time for the rivalry between Barty and Swiatek…
– There was no rivalry because Ash beat Iga very comfortably every single time. Iga didn’t like her game style at all, with the slice, with the serve coming to the net. I remember watch the final in Adelaide and Barty made it look so easy. She was so comfortable playing Iga. I think a lot of the players are happy that Ash is not playing because she had a different style. Now the way the girls are playing, except Ons Jabeur, it’s very… I wouldn’t say one-dimensional, but it’s pretty straight forward, with a lots of pressure, lots of power.
– When Borg retired, McEnroe felt a kind of emptiness. His great opponent was gone. Did you think, perhaps, that something like that could happen to Swiatek?
– I was more thinking about the pressure over Iga´s shoulders: she suddenly became number one, she didn’t physically earn it to be there. I thought that pressure wise she was not going to handle it, but she certainly did. She has improved mentally out of sight the way she stays at the moment. She is the kind of player we will have around for a very long time. She wants to win many Slams and I think she can. This year coming up she will be dominant again, I can’t see anyone beating her many times.
– Do you see Jauber winning a Grand Slam soon?
– She was very close twice. I think she got overwhelmed in those finals a couple of times, where she wanted too much. She had a lot of attention on her, especially for what she means for the Arab world, for the women there. All eyes on her, she is a super star. Hopefully, she has learned from those defeats, she definitely has the game to get to that stage, with that completely different game style she has, full of slices, dropshots, tweeners. Not with the fastest tennis. She definitely has chances.
– Caroline García had an amazing second semester.
– Yes she did, which I was very happy about. I remember when I saw her facing María Sharapova in the French Open in 2011, a phenomenal game. I said, ‘ok, this girl is gonna be top ten’. It took her longer to develop her game and be consistent and successful than other players, but she got there. She announced she’s working with this Argentinian guy (Juan Pablo Guzman) for the next year and I think is going to go really well. I love her style of game. She is not afraid of finishing the points at the net. She is a great athlete and I think she will be in the mix. In the top 10 and maybe in the top 5. It will be interesting to see how she does in the first part of the year after this break, how she looks and what have they worked on. She has gained a lot of confidence as well, the most important thing for a tennis player. I don’t think she will be number one in the world, but will have a good year.
– Apparently everyone will be fighting for the number two in the rankings.
– Yeah. It sounds like it. Iga will be dominant again. I can’t see anyone beating her many times. I can see many players chasing that spot. There’s also Aryna Savalenka, who is playing much better. Coco Gauff… I’m a big fan of her. She also had a great year, I’m not sure if she is maybe playing too much doubles. She’s the kind of player that will stay in the top five for some time.
– Does Gauff needs to forget about the doubles and focus only in her singles?
– Sometimes is a lot to play singles and doubles in the Grand Slams. She is still young, improving and getting experience. I think she is suddenly a player that has everything to be up at the top at some stage. Now is a bit too early. With the forehand I’m not so sure she can break down in the important moments, but I love that she comes to the net, she serves extremely well, her backhand is flawless, she moves well. That final she played at the French… she just got overwhelmed. She was tight and nervous.
– When is about off-court topics, she might be the best spokesperson between WTA players.
– I love that about her. She is really using her platform, especially in Grand Slams. A lot of players are afraid of coming up with statements, delivering political statements specially, but she’s very vocal. Super mature for her age, she’s been unbelievable. It seems very organic from her. Tennis needs personalities, characters like that.
– Many female characters have taken the flag of the sexual minorities since the seventies. No man has ever done it in the elite of tennis.
– I think it’s in every sport on the men side. It’s probably harder for male athlete to come out and make it public. On the women’s tour, I don’t understand why women would hold it back. I have absolutely no problem with it. If you are homosexual or not, for me is the person that counts. Why should they be afraid? I cannot talk from a men’s perspective, you know. I think men have bit more of a problem than females when men are gay. I have a lot of girlfriends from the tour, former colleagues who are homosexual and I’m very close with them. I don’t understand why in 2022 there are some women that can’t freely say they are dating another woman, unbelievable how long it takes. And for men it’s very hard. Amongst them is more of a taboo I’m very open minded and doesn’t make any difference the sexual orientation of somebody.
– Apart from Gauff, what about the other youngstars? We could’t see much of the Emma Raducanu-Leylah Fernández rivalry after the 2021 Us Open final.
– It was a surprise for both of them to reach that match last year in New York, a match not easy to digest. Leylah had a better year than Emma in 2022. Emma’s life changed completely after her title. It’s been crazy all the attention she got. I saw it in England, I spent a lot of time there for work and did witnessed it. All the sponsorships. It’s very hard for her to stay in the moment. We need to give both of them more time to settle down and then to prove themselves. The coaching situation with Emma is always interesting. She has tried with a lot of coaches. Hopefully she finds the right one and gets time to improve and evolve with that person. You need longer than a few months to work with someone and gain something. They are definitely talented. All happened very quickly for them at a very young age. Mats Wilander won a Slam when he was 19 and his life was never the same.
– She keeps sayings she feels no pressure because she already is a Grand Slam champion.
– That’s what she says, of course. You try to turn your head, make yourself believe you don’t have pressure. Every tennis player has a certain amount of pressure from the outside, and what you put on yourself. You only realize that when you retire, how relieved you are and how you feel life afterwards.
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