The world's No. 1 tennis star embraced an 'underdog' mentality to fuel her run to the US Open final

The world's No. 1 tennis star embraced an 'underdog' mentality to fuel her run to the US Open final
·3 min read
Iga Swiatek hits a shot during her US Open semifinal match against Aryna Sabalenka.
Iga Swiatek hits a shot during her US Open semifinal match against Aryna Sabalenka.Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
  • Iga Swiatek is set to face world No. 5 Ons Jabeur in the 2022 US Open women's singles final.

  • The world's top-ranked star has embraced an underdog mentality to power her championship run.

  • A tough start to her hardcourt season gave Swiatek doubt that she'd "play so well here."

NEW YORK — Iga Swiatek is one win away from her second Grand Slam title of the year.

But somewhat paradoxically, the world's top-ranked tennis star embraced an underdog mentality to fuel her run to this year's US Open final.

The 21-year-old Polish star has held the WTA's No. 1 ranking since April 4, seemingly making her the favorite to hoist the trophy at Flushing Meadows some five months later. But Swiatek, who is known for her deftness on clay and won both of her previous Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros, struggled considerably in the lead-up to the final Grand Slam of the year.

Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek.Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Her hardcourt season consisted of back-to-back losses in the Round of 16 — first against Beatriz Haddad Maia in Toronto and, a few weeks later, versus Madison Keys in Cincinnati, Ohio. Unsurprisingly, women's tennis' brightest star wasn't exuding confidence ahead of the US Open.

"Looking logically at last tournaments, I just didn't know if this one is going to be possible for me to be consistent and to win so many matches in a row," Swiatek said in a press conference. "After the losses that I had in Toronto and Cincinnati, I just wasn't expecting to play so well here."

"It gave me actually a lot because I could be kind of an underdog again, not maybe fully, but just not expect from myself that I'm going to win everything right now," she added.

Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek.AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Alleviating the immense pressure that comes with her top ranking helped Swiatek find her hardcourt footing at just the right time. She cruised through her first three US Open matches in straight sets — even as she faced former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the second round.

And even as the competition grew fiercer as the field shrunk down, Swiatek managed to keep her foot on the gas. She needed three sets to take down Germany's Jule Niemeier, then won her quarterfinal match in a second-set tiebreak against eighth-ranked American Jessica Pegula.

"I feel more confident every match, but still I'm trying not to get my expectations too high because I know anything can happen," Swiatek said after her fourth-round match. "I don't want to overthink, you know? So I'm just focused on the next match. But during the match I'm just focused on the next point."

Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek.Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

She recovered from a slow first set against Aryna Sabalenka — who played some of her best tennis of the tournament in the early going of the match — to win the semifinal in three sets. Now, Swiatek is the first No. 1-ranked women's player to reach the US Open final since Serena Williams achieved the feat in 2014.

But she's still leaning into the role of the dark horse.

"For sure just not playing well before also took some pressure off," Swiatek said after her semifinal victory. "I mean, it's not like I was aiming to do that, but I'm pretty happy that I converted it in a positive way."

Iga Swiatek.
Swiatek celebrates winning her US Open semifinal match.REUTERS/Mike Segar

She'll face world No. 5 Ons Jabeur for the 2022 US Open women's singles title Saturday afternoon at New York City's Arthur Ashe Stadium. Fans in the US can catch all the action on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET.

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