Iga Swiatek channels her inner Rafael Nadal to reach new level

Swiatek won the Madrid Masters in an all-time great final against Aryna Sabalenka.
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Iga Swiatek should have been done. She was down 1-3 in the third set of what was already a grueling final against Aryna Sabalenka at the Madrid Masters and Sabalenka appeared on the verge of taking control of the match. She needed to win only three more games, but Swiatek would not let her get there.

The Pole even faced three championship points but Sabalenka could not find a way to win. This is what great champions do, of course, and Swiatek is a great champion. She has held the No. 1 ranking on the WTA tour for most of two years and a big reason for that is she is 20-4 in career finals. Once she reaches the end of an event, she is almost certainly going to win.

But Swiatek also needed to find some inspiration from one of her idols to get the victory. She was tired and could not get "loose" - that was the word she used several times in her post-match press conference - and then she remembered a match Rafael Nadal played two years ago against Daniil Medvedev.

Iga Swiatek finds inspiration from Rafael Nadal's past successes

Nadal had the same issue. He was behind and near the end of the match but found himself and came back to win. Swiatek admitted she had not even spoken with the Spanish great to see what changed for him in his match, but that did not matter. Something "clicked" for Swiatek and that was all she needed.

Swiatek said in the post-match press conference, "I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, am I going to feel a little bit more loose soon?’ It didn’t really happen, and then after two hours, it did...Honestly, one thing that came through my mind was actually that I think Rafa had couple of matches like that...But I remember exactly when he was playing Medvedev in Australia and it clicked for him. It felt like it."

Rafael Nadal is such a great player that he unknowingly helps other great players mentally during a match. Would Swiatek have beaten Sabalenka 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7) eventually? Maybe. But how much the inspiration of what Nadal had gone through helped cannot be measured. If Nadal could win in dire circumstances, so could Swiatek, she thought.

With the victory, Swiatek extends her points lead over No. 2 Sabalenka and puts her out of reach even if she falls early in the French Open at the end of May. But Swiatek is unlikely to lose early in a Grand Slam event she has won three of the last four years. Maybe the rest of tennis will catch up to her at some point this year, but if she keeps asking, "What would Rafa do?" the field might not.

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