French Open champion Iga Swiatek has revealed she was “fascinated” by Rafael Nadal as a youngster and has tried to “copy” his style of play.
Swiatek caused a major shock last October when she won her first Grand Slam title in Paris as a 19-year-old.
She started this year with a run to the fourth round of the Australian Open, losing to second seed Simona Halep in three sets, and is in the semi-finals of the Adelaide International.
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Her powerful ground game, featuring heavy top spin on a lot of shots, has earned her plenty of plaudits and Swiatek says she has been influenced by Nadal.
“I play a lot with men because there aren't that many female players in Poland. This allows me to develop faster as a player. I didn't watch tennis too much when I was young. The only player who fascinated me was Rafael Nadal," she told German publication Tennis Magazine.
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“I guess I copied my style of play from him. I like to hit the balls with a lot of top spin. My first coach also told me that it was unusual for a girl to play with top spin. He advised me to focus on it as one day it will be a great strength.”
Asked what she admires about Nadal, Swiatek added: “Since I now know him not only as a player but also as a person, I respect him even more as a person. He's humble and has stayed the same guy he was before winning so many titles.
“When I was young I loved the way he looks and the energy he plays with.”
Swiatek’s impressive results in 2020 have seen her nominated for the prestigious Laureus Award, which celebrates individual and team success from around the sporting world.
She is also now the face of Polish tennis, taking over from Agnieszka Radwanska, who retired in 2018.
“Aga was not my idol because, as I said, I mainly watched men's tennis and Nadal matches, but she was an incredible inspiration for young players from Poland,” said Swiatek.
“It showed that it is possible to play at the highest level even if we do not have the best funding system in our country. With her great career, she has proven that you can do it alone and that it is worth fighting for.”
Reflecting on her French Open success, she added: “When I won, I was in shock. I didn't realise I was a Grand Slam winner.
“When I went on vacation to the Polish Baltic Sea coast, I finally realised that I had actually won the French Open. The best thing about the win is the fact that I've achieved something I've dreamed of for so long. But I'm the same humble person I was before - with the same dreams and goals.”
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