Iga Swiatek has described her initial shock after learning of Ash Barty's retirement from tennis last year, saying the decision left her in tears. The 21-year-old Polish star inherited the World No.1 ranking from Barty following the Australian star's shock call to walk away from the sport at just 25.
Heading into this year's Australian Open as a heavy favourite after dominating last season in Barty's absence, Swiatek said she had been lounging in a rented apartment in Miami when Barty's announcement came through. Initially unable to believe the news, it wasn't until watching a video later published by Barty explaining the reasoning behind her decision that Swiatek understood.
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Having only been promoted to World No.3 just three days before Barty's retirement, the rapid ascension to the top rank left Swiatek in a state of disbelief. Even more surprising to the now three-time grand slam champion was Barty's reasoning - something Swiatek said she found relatable.
"I couldn’t stop crying. Honestly, it didn’t really have that much to do with potentially moving up in the ranking. It might sound strange, but I was so confused and shocked that Ash was 25, and she was retiring," Swiatek wrote for the Player's Tribune.
"I always had this image in my mind that you retire when you’re 32, and your body can’t cope anymore. I also felt like Ash has the best tennis out there, hands down. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
"I didn’t know if she was unhappy or something. But then I watched the video on Instagram, and I understood. Right now, I understand even more."
Barty said part of her decision for retiring came from simply not feeling the need to prove anything more in her tennis career. A winner of the Australian and French Opens, as well as Wimbledon, many had tipped Barty to remain a force in the women's rankings for years to come.
Iga Swiatek a heavy favourite heading into Australian Open
Swiatek earned the top seed for the season-opening grand slam in Barty's absence, and is set to face German challenger Jule Niermeier in the first round. Australian hopeful Ajla Tomljanovic, who narrowly missed out on being seeded, faces a much more difficult run to the final.
Tomljanovic dropped two positions in the rankings this week to world No.35, down from a career-high world No.33 after her stellar 2022 season. With former world No.1 Simona Halep not contesting the Open, Tomljanovic would have nabbed a seeding had she won a singles match at the new mixed teams' event.
A coveted first-time grand slam seeding would have ensured Tomljanovic couldn't possibly strike a higher-ranked rival until at least round three. Instead, Tomljanovic's only saving grace from Thursday's draw is a seemingly soft opener against Argentina's world No.192 Nadia Podoroska.
Tomljanovic could face 2020 champion Sofia Kenin or two-time Open winner Victoria Azarenka in round two. If the 2022 Wimbledon and US Open quarter-finalist makes it to the last 32, in-form 10th seed Madison Keys - a semi-final loser to Barty last year - will likely be waiting in round three.
Tomljanovic could also play sixth seed Maria Sakkari in the last 16 and world No.3 Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals. Tomljanovic must be cursing her luck. The 29-year-old was in line for a precious first-time grand slam seeding at her home major until a knee injury forced her to withdraw from the season-opening United Cup.
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