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What recreational players can learn from Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur after US Open final
While it'll be difficult to replicate Swiatek's spins or Jabeur's variety on the club level, check out some key tips that can get you playing like the Flushing Meadows finalists.
Published Sep 10, 2022
WATCH: Swiatek's precise technique helped her compile a 37-match winning streak in addition to two Slam titles in 2022.
The four singles finalists of the US Open – Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur, Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud—make for a compelling quartet. Each has an incredible array of skills and will likely be exciting to watch for years to come. It’s also possible for recreational players to learn from them, as Joel Drucker explains in this two-part series. Part one offers pointers to be gained from the women’s finalists.
World No. 1 Iga Swiatek is a study in discipline and confidence. First, pay attention to Swiatek’s exceptional footwork and court positioning. “Watch how low she plays to the ground,” says Emma Doyle, a veteran coach who last month published the book, What Makes a Great Coach? “She keeps her center of gravity and is able to crowd the baseline. That helps her be in place to take the ball early and redirect it.”
From there, Swiatek takes small adjustment steps or, when necessary, long strides, to arrive at the ball in time to hit it forcefully. “She’s an amazing mover,” says Lynne Rolley, a former USTA coach who is currently chair of the Professional Tennis Registry, the world’s premier organization of teaching professionals. “But anyone can become a better mover by studying the court and learning to anticipate better.”
Once in place to hit the ball, Swiatek repeatedly employs specific rally patterns. “You don’t win a point on one shot,” says Rolley. “You win a point by moving the ball and eventually there’ll be an opening.”
One common Swiatek sequence you can attempt is to serve wide and then strike a deep forehand into the opposite corner. “Her backswings are compact and she swings through the ball cleanly,” says Doyle. While recreational players cannot execute this pattern with as much pace or precision as Swiatek, they certainly can emulate Swiatek by practicing it repeatedly. “If you do that,” says Rolley, “you’ll build the confidence to hit the shot you’ve been taught.”
In the big picture, what you can learn from Swiatek is execution and how even the presence of predictability can be an effective form of sustained disruption. Like a football team that runs a certain play again and again, the message from Swiatek is direct: We all know it’s coming. Here it is. Deal with it.
One common Swiatek sequence you can attempt is to serve wide and then strike a deep forehand into the opposite corner...While recreational players cannot execute this pattern with as much pace or precision as Swiatek, they certainly can emulate Swiatek by practicing it repeatedly.
Then there’s Jabeur, a player who discards certainty in favor of doubt. “She’s got the ability to disrupt at every level, in all sorts of ways,” says Doyle. Jabeur’s mix of spins and paces offer a useful model for recreational players, be it with everything from high topspin drives that go deep to her frequent use of the drop shot in situations that range from service returns to on the run to its more conventional spot of deployment, inside the baseline. Few players are as skilled as Jabeur in stretching the dimensions of the court—and keeping opponents constantly guessing. “She gets them off-balance and that’s something every player should think about,” says Rolley. “You don’t just work on hitting flat forehands and backhands. You work on all sorts of shots.”
Armed with such an array, Jabeur’s points combine strategy with opportunism. “She’s thinking one or two shots ahead,” says Doyle. “Tennis is not always about raw power. It’s a game of chess, where a player like Ons is constantly moving pieces around the board in different ways.” As one example, Jabeur’s short backhand slice forces an opponent to dig the ball out and not hit it as forcefully as desired, subsequently providing an opening to drive a forehand hard and deep. And then there’s the moonball that pushes an opponent back and creates the opportunity for a drop shot. Both of these are sequences recreational players can refine.
In today’s match, certainty prevailed over doubt, Swiatek winning, 6-2, 7-6 (5). With power, precision and movement, like a prosecutor trotting out evidence, Swiatek dictated the tempo of one rally after another, for most of the first 1.5 sets taking the racquet out of Jabeur’s hands. “Know thyself and do what you do best,” says Doyle. Repeatedly forced to field Swiatek’s deep, hard drives, Jabeur rarely had time or space to impose her artistry on a highly in-form opponent.
Even then, though, there came a point when Jabeur began to feel comfortable with the predictability of Swiatek’s game, rallying from a 2-6, 0-3, 15-40 deficit to crawl back into the set. Interestingly, Jabeur did this less with variety and more by the most straightforward tactic of them all, consistency, a reasonable amount of depth that contributed to Swiatek playing tighter. The big lesson: Difficult as it is to be losing badly, eager as you may be to exit the court from this uncomfortable situation, don’t lose quickly. Take more time in between points and remember all of your tactical options. Then, even if you lose, you’ll know you at least exhausted every idea possible.