It takes a prodigious talent to know a prodigious talent. Maybe that’s why Iga Swiatek and WTA 2020 Coach of the Year Piotr Sierzputowski have been the perfect match since his junior days.
Sierzputowski, 28, started coaching at the age of 14 before pursuing a full-time coaching career at 18 in Warsaw. Sierzputowski started out as a punching partner for his younger sister, Alicja Sierzputowska.
“All the players around her wanted to have someone like me,” Sierzputowski said. “So they asked me, of course, as a side job. I was playing tennis. I was in school. So, it was just to make me money for a few lessons a week.
“So I started quite early. When I was 18 I was already working at the club. I decided that I had to end my career because as everyone knows, tennis at a certain level is expensive because that you have to travel. “
Given the talent of his younger sister, the financial resources of the family at the time to support his career. Sierzputowski moved with her to Warsaw.
“I started working in Warsaw at the club where I finally met Iga after a few years of working there,” Sierzputowski said. “I mainly worked with players under the age of 14. I was number 5 in Tennis Europe at the time, so the girl was playing pretty well.”
Then came the fortuitous call in 2016. Swiatek, then 14, was looking for a new coach after Roland Garros and Sierzputowski boss tapped him on the shoulder. Sierzputowsky was only 23 years old.
“I said I felt I wasn’t ready for this because I don’t have experience moving from the transition tour, say, to the WTA because Iga was already at the stage where she was. made a Roland Garros junior quarterfinal, ”Sierzputowski mentioned. “It’s not a big step, not far from going to the WTA. You have to take those steps to be there.
“He said, okay we’ll look for a coach. We’ll put you on the squad as a second coach who can travel, can help, can be on the pitch and hit with her.
“But I was hitting too weakly,” Sierzputowski said with a laugh. “I was just too weak on the pitch, but found some good hitting partners.”
In the meantime, Swiatek tried other coaches but kept coming back to Sierzputowski.
“Iga and his dad have decided that I will stay with them for the next preseason and then we’ll see,” Sierzputowski said. “And it has remained until now. This is how we started our cooperation.”
Sierzputowski was at the helm of Swiatek’s brilliant junior career, which included a junior title at Wimbledon, and her runaway success on the ITF Tour as she worked to improve her standings to secure direct entry into WTA events. .
“He’s quite young, but he’s also very ambitious,” Swiatek said. “He has a good eye. Even though he’s young, we kind of learn together.”
Sierzputowski’s humility defined the framework of his coaching career. More importantly, he hasn’t tried to be everything for his young charge and he’s quick to recognize when he needs help.
“There isn’t a huge age gap between me and Iga,” Sierzputowski said. “It’s been nine years. So I can’t be a role model for her for everything. That’s why I need people in a team who know what they’re doing. That’s why I try to organize the team as best I can.
“I don’t need to be a psychologist. I can hire them. I can advise Iga to get one. Likewise with the physical trainer, the physiotherapist. Everything is there, and everything is set up.
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“I think I’m the dumbest person on the team. But I feel like I made the team. It was my idea. It was kind of my thought, what it should be. look like, how it should work and it works. So I’m ‘I’m really happy because I think that’s one of the most important aspects of having a tennis coach on the tennis teams on the tour. “
After his incredible journey to the Roland Garros title last fall, the balance has been difficult to find for the Swiatek team. The increased notoriety and obligations at home led Sierzputowski to organize Swiatek’s training blocks away from Poland so that she could work without distraction. So far, the pace has worked well. Swiatek started the season by advancing to the round of 16 at the Australian Open and winning his second WTA title at Adelaide International.
But Swiatek didn’t have time to relax. Now begins the process of preparing for his title defense at Roland Garros. After a mini pre-season training block in Sotogrande, Spain, Swiatek is making his tournament debut this week at the Madrid Open.
“I wish I could feel relieved,” Swiatek said. “Yes, even though I had some really good games, I won Adelaide, I still feel like it’s not enough. I know it’s wrong, but that’s how my brain is working, I kind of have to fight myself.
“As soon as I relax and play, it will be a lot, a lot better. Knowing now that I can play really well, I expect to play well in every game. It’s not possible because in fact [this is] it’s gonna be my first full year on tour if i’m not gonna get hurt or anything. Right now, I feel like it’s so hard to change places, to change the game, to adapt.
“I was playing really, really well at Sotogrande. I felt perfect, maybe not at first, but then when I worked it was really solid and great. But when I came here I still had felt like I forgot how to play tennis because balls bounced differently, clay was a little different. “
It’s all part of the learning experience for Swiatek, although his trainer may be more enthusiastic about the prospect. It would be easy for Sierzputowski to revel in their success, but what turns her on is precisely how far Swiatek is from the player he envisions her to be.
“Even this year, after the [Australian Open] we sat down together and I was really excited to be able to implement new things with her, which makes me really, really happy right now, because it’s not like we’re at the end of our road. ” , Sierzputowski said.
“There’s a huge improvement in communication right now. I think she’s getting more mature. So I think we can work on different things than when she was a junior. Right now we are. can work on tactics, we can work on energy management, we can work on how she sees the player on the other side, not just herself on the pitch, she’s much more aware.
“She’s getting to the point that I feel, I hope, in two, three years that she will reach her maximum limit of knowledge that she can acquire, and then it will be a game of chess, as if we are moving her from one point to another. place i feel like this is gonna be the best part of his life.
“We’ll see. I hope she enjoys it, but right now she’s learning everything very quickly.”