Iga Swiatek didn’t just win her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros this year—she rewrote history, becoming the first Polish player ever, male or female, to win a Grand Slam title. And at No. 54, she became the lowest-ranked woman to win there in the Open Era. She rose to No. 17 afterwards.
This week, Swiatek was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year—and if the history of the award is anything to go by, that No. 17 next to her name might not be there for too much longer.
Of the 41 previous winners of the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award, 39 would reach the Top 10 at some point in their career. The only two exceptions have been 1982 recipient Sabina Simmonds and 2009 winner Yanina Wickmayer (who’s expecting her first child but is still active).
Additionally, 32 of the previous 41 recipients of the award reached the Top 5.
And to go even further, 11 of the previous 41 recipients of the award would go on to reach No. 1 in the world: Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Simona Halep.
After lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in October, Swiatek—who doesn’t turn 20 until the end of May next year—made it clear she’s only getting started in terms of reaching her potential.
“I really feel like I can progress in most things because I’m only 19,” she said. “I know my game isn’t developed perfectly. Also, the biggest change for me is going to be getting more consistent. I think that’s what women’s tennis is struggling with—that’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners, because we are not as consistent as Rafa, Roger and Novak. That’s why my goal is consistency.”
If Swiatek can continue to play like she did in Paris consistently, it shouldn't be long before she breaks the Top 10—she lost just 28 games in seven matches on the terre battue, including a 6-1, 6-2 fourth-round win over Halep and a 6-4, 6-1 win over Sofia Kenin, which were also her first two Top 10 wins.
Swiatek is also the 10th player whose improvement was so swift that she received the WTA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award the same year as winning her first Grand Slam title. And of the previous nine players who achieved that feat, six of them went on to become multiple major winners.
Players to win WTA’s Most Improved Player the same year as winning their first major:
1978: Virginia Ruzici (won only major at 1978 Roland Garros)
1980: Hana Mandlikova (won first major at 1980 Australian Open, finished with four majors)
1989: Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (won first major at 1989 Roland Garros, finished with four majors)
1990: Monica Seles (won first major at 1990 Roland Garros, finished with nine majors)
1999: Serena Williams (won first major at 1999 US Open, currently has 23 majors)
2004: Maria Sharapova (won first major at 2004 Wimbledon, finished with five majors)
2010: Francesca Schiavone (won only major at 2010 Roland Garros)
2011: Petra Kvitova (won first major at 2011 Wimbledon, currently has two majors)
2017: Jelena Ostapenko (won first major at 2017 Roland Garros, currently her only major)
2020: Iga Swiatek (won first major at 2020 Roland Garros…?)