“Nobody wanted to help us. Iga’s father dragged his daughters into a parking lot” • Ok Tennis

photo credit: @ Jimmie48 / WTA

These are special days for tennis in Poland.

Ashleigh Barty’s farewell and the subsequent conquest of No. 1 in the WTA rankings by Iga Swiatek, the first Polish tennis player to reach the top of the world, creates a long wait for the first Monday in April. official passage to the classification.

As Iga is on the court in Miami, where she reached the quarter-finals for the fifth time in 2022 and is aiming for the fifth semi-final of the season tomorrow against Petra Kvitova, dozens of articles are published in her home to celebrate the goal. . From the most festive to the most delicate, because the story of the twenty-year-old from the province of Warsaw is far from easy to pin down. It is not unique and the words (in this case) of Janusz Swiatek to sport.pl speak well of how terrible the general path for athletes aiming for the path of professionalism is, in short, terrible.

The brother of Tomasz Swiatek, father of Iga, told in a long exclusive interview how much effort they had to put in, physical and mental, to seek a minimum of support, but receiving only doors slammed in their faces. “It’s really a nightmare to get financial support for young tennis players in Poland,” he said, “a lot of people don’t believe in talent. I tried to get the help many people to get sponsors when I didn’t have a manager yet. It was very complicated. Now, after several years, people remember when I asked them for help. I remember that he 10 years ago I was talking to a friend who worked for an agency that followed footballers, I told him to keep some pennies and give it to Iga, who would not regret it. I saw him again a week ago and he said to me: ‘If only I had become manager of Iga at that time…’”.

Janusz said that beyond the economic problem, there is the whole phase where relations must hold up in the face of a thousand problems. You have to guide your children in sports, help them in school, spend everything on them and manage the moments when they can rebel, as is the case with teenagers. In this he passed words of praise for Iga who “already at 13, 14 was very clear how many sacrifices there could be ahead of her.” “It took a lot of energy and time to get there” continues his uncle, “I participated in their commitment, I was able to help them, I saw my brother train his daughters (Tomasz was an Olympic athlete in rowing, nda).I remember when they went to train at the Warsaw tennis club or when he had to build a small court in a parking lot of a swimming pool and let them play there”. Agata, Iga’s older sister, also tried to pursue a career as a tennis player but the physicist gave her too much trouble and devoted herself to study, a factor that remained very important also for Iga until until she graduates from high school in May 2020. with excellent grades. Today, Agata becomes a dentist following her mother’s medical path, but she is never named or presented in public by choice staff: “Tomasz has always wanted school to remain a fundamental part of his daughters’ education”.

Janusz added: “I’ve heard many times that it’s easier for other players to emerge because they can have help like wildcards. Especially players who come from countries that host Slam tournaments. Iga had to fight very hard in qualifying. It is possible to reach the top without a joker, but it is much more complicated. Iga wanted to do everything to get to this position where he would no longer have to qualify because it takes a lot of time, requires a lot of effort and it is really a limitation”. In all this, in addition to scarce funds and lack of attention, there was also a problem of who to entrust with the growth of Iga: “The other huge difficulty was finding the right person. Now, Tomasz and I, when we meet and talk about Iga, we are very happy with the results, but we still remember how many people said that we wouldn’t make it, that nothing would ever come out. Lots of coaches, especially, although not Piotr Sierzputowski, with whom Iga worked so well for five years. I saw a lot of coaches when she was a junior, at the very beginning of her career. Some of them did their job well, others changed their method depending on whether or not Iga’s father was there. Especially in the first periods it was really obvious and you had to be very present for there to be adequate behavior”.

To use an important expression of the author of the article, “failure is an orphan, success has many fathers”. Now that Swiatek is gaining international recognition, everyone would love to taste this cake: “Now I hear so many friends who want a picture or an autograph of Iga,” Janusz said, “and sometimes I think, ” Where were you then?” How many times have I asked them to even visit Iga’s Facebook page, to seek at least some visibility, but there was no reaction. was the reality of our beginnings. We had to ask for everything, try to arrange every aspect through all possible channels. Today, Iga has a lot of fans, but we really started from scratch.

Another important step, he said, was in character building. Iga is a very introverted girl, quite cultivated in the ability to express herself but still at 17 she was still a bit shaky with the dialogue towards an unknown person, like when we spoke at the Australian Open 2019 In her previous years she had to really get strong to bring out the character we now see on the pitch and Janusz recalls a junior tournament in Radom, a Polish town which in a few weeks will also host the Billie Jean King’s play-off. Cup between Poland and Romania. Then the situation was very different: “She was still a child. Everyone wanted to win this tournament, especially parents of busy kids. They wanted him at all costs. It often happened that they cheated, because there were no referees and therefore the parents made their decisions. It was reality. Iga couldn’t stand it and asked, “Why are they cheating on me?” Eventually, however, she began to speak up and insist, contradicting other people’s decisions and pushing her limits. Even so, he built his own character.”

In the end, Iga’s path is also something enormous because she reached the top of the world at not even 21 years old (she will shoot them on May 31) despite all the problems that she too denounced, especially comparing herself to many other young people who could benefit from more favorable conditions. It is also true that situations like this, unfortunately, are quite the norm for athletes in some countries. And most likely digging a little can make you feel a whole lot worse. But if Swiatek is the example of “one in a million” reaching the top out of nothing, it’s fair to praise her but also keep in mind how bad the road that boys and girls as they have to go is difficult and risky. take from the start and where dreams often remain unfinished.

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