Breaking down Swiatek and the top 5 WTA players
Even though filming on “The Real Housewives of Miami” season 5 wrapped in June and professional tennis has been on its off period (for a couple more days), Martina Navratilova’s life is incessantly, well, lively. She and her wife, Julia Lemigova, one of the Housewives co-stars, have a batch going
As it turns out, the popular Bravo series has opened up a new fan base for Navratilova.
“I’m recognized by the people who watch the show, rather than who I was before, so that’s quite funny,” she said with a laugh.
Still, at the age of 66, Navratilova remains one of the most astute tennis analysts around. She recently found some time to address a handful of looming questions ahead of the 2023 Hologic WTA Tour season, which kicks off this week at the United Cup in Australia. Her enthusiasm remains thankfully undiminished.
Here’s Navratilova’s first take of the new year on the current WTA top five ranked players:
Iga Swiatek is defending a lot of points in the coming season. Do you see her maintaining the No.1 ranking throughout the year?
Navratilova: I do, I do. I don’t see anyone taking it down, because it’s so consistent. She wins majors, and she’s consistent. Usually she is one or the other. She has them both at the same time. I think to see if she’s making any changes, adding to her game again. In the past year, she has made more forays online and made a world of difference.
Seems like it’s becoming a trend right?
Navratilova: I think you’ll see more players step up – Maria Sakkari does that with her quickness as well and she deflects those volleys so easily. Barbora Krejcikova, with her doubles, is a good volleyer. They definitely need to get more aggressive with their positioning. Because women move very well on the baseline and you have to play tennis to win. You don’t need to play lights out if you go further.
After the best year of your career, how do you see the season for No.2 Ons Jabeur?
Navratilova: He reached the final at both Wimbledon and the US Open. With so many people looking up to her, it takes a lot of effort to handle that pressure. She has good energy and range to frustrate her opponents. But now she needs to take the next step and excel in the most pressured moments. If she can do that, Jabeur is someone who has the overall game and mindset to disrupt Swiatek’s dominance.
Jessica Pegula ended 2022 at No.3. She has reached the quarterfinals in four of the last five majors. Do you see her taking the next one during the most important moments?
Navratilova: You need to find a bigger gun. Maybe the service, work on that. She has to work very hard to earn those points. Many times, she takes longer to hold serve than her opponent. And it’s cumulative, right? It may not bother you in this match, but it will in the next one. In general, earning points more easily saves energy in the long run. I would focus on more variety on the second serve and a little more power on the first serve. That’s where she could make the biggest improvement.
How do you see the 2023 season of the winner of the WTA Finals in Fort Worth and current number 4, Caroline Garcia?
Navratilova: Fantastic end of the year for a player who has all the shots in the book. She wants him, however. She now she believes that she can do it. She is one of the best athletes out there, right up there with Swiatek and Sakkari, Sabalenka and Coco Gauff. The obvious thing is that Garcia can’t fall off the map like she did before last season. As we saw in the WTA Finals, when her game is on, she’s very hard to beat.
Aryna Sabalenka had her ups and downs, but she is still number 5 in the ranking. How do you see her trend this coming season?
Sabalenka should take this last year as an advantage overall. I think she will be a force. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins a major because she seems to be more focused and mentally progressing well. On any given day, maybe, but as far as consistency, I don’t see anyone challenging Iga.
Coco Gauff’s year-end ranking has steadily progressed over the past five years: 2018 (No. 875), 2019 (No. 68), 2020 (No. 48), 2021 (No. 22), 2022 (No. 7). Do you see another jump for the 18-year-old?
Navratilova: Your service has improved. Coming to the final of the French, I think he has the best game for all surfaces. So with her, just get a little clarity on that forehand and you’re home for free. I could take another leap. I would put more money into her one day taking over the #1 spot than anyone else.
After winning a Grand Slam singles title four years in a row, Naomi Osaka went 2-3 in the three majors she played in 2023. What’s next for the 42nd-ranked player?
Navratilova: It is a very unique case, in every way. So maybe you need to deal with that uniquely. He may not have to play all those games, but he certainly has to play more than he has. With her, it seems that forces outside of tennis are affecting her more than anything else. Is integrated. How you have organized your life with all these outside interests and influences and demands your time more than anyone else. If your priority is tennis, back off a bit. You don’t have to do it all. It has to absorb your energy away from tennis. I’m all for broadening your horizons, I was never a one trick pony, but tennis came first. It doesn’t necessarily mean training harder, but maybe sometimes not doing anything at all. Put your feet up or go to the beach.
Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won all three major doubles tournaments they played in and reached the final of the WTA Finals, losing to Elise Mertens and Veronika Kudermetova. Can you see a different team that could dominate the doubles next year?
Navratilova: As long as Krejcikova plays enough doubles, she’s the better team. They know better how to play doubles. They are actually two good singles players playing doubles. Mertens and Kudermetova would be closest to them, and it’s no coincidence that they are both strong individual players as well. Those two teams are head and shoulders above everyone else. It’s not even close. The rest are generally doubles specialists. Barbora could cut down on her doubles game, but not in the majors where you have the energy to do it, a day off between singles matches. She can only help her. For her, it’s finding the balance of playing enough doubles, but not too much.