Iga Swiatek On Mental Health, Confidence, and "Tennis Core" Ahead of the 2024 French Open

Charles Michalet/On

“Let’s try one more,” Iga Świątek, the world’s number one women’s tennis player, says to an announcer on the court who just told an eager crowd that it was time to wrap it up. She’s not matched up with some of her top opponents like Coco Gauff or Aryna Sabalenka, instead on this day, she’s happily playing a few rounds with young tennis lovers on a city court in Paris, France. Świątek certainly could have walked away when time was up, the Olympic hopeful has earned her free time after winning the Miami Open, the Italian Open, the Madrid Open and the Australian Open in the span of just five months. But in a way that feels true to the 22-year-old Polish player’s laidback and earnest personality, she actually wants to play with the young girl on the other side of the court.

Before stepping out at the event put on by Swiss sneaker and activewear brand On, attendees watched a short documentary about the player’s career. It touched on her meteoric rise in the sport, the interesting and unconventional way she holds her racquet, how she’s mentally dealt with a sudden rise in fame and how, even at her age, she wants to be a role model for young girls.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Świątek said about making the film. She wanted people to see the real her – a fierce tennis player with a quiet side, who grew up in Warsaw and loves her city. The film also touches briefly on her mental health, specifically how she’s balancing the attention of tennis fame, both good and bad. “I just won Rome and for the past two days [there wasn’t] even one hour when nobody asked me for photos,” she said. “It's not easy, but it's an important part of the job.” Despite some discomfort (she’s admittedly shy), connection is something she takes seriously; she wants to be a role model for young players and fans – cut to that scene of her going just one more round with a young player on the court. “Sometimes [people] are really nice and they also say, ‘oh, my kids started playing tennis because of you’. And this kind of thing also can motivate you sometimes and show you that there's a bigger purpose.”

Watch the film:

Of course, with a heightened visibility comes relentless scrutiny, especially for an athlete. Many of her contemporaries across sports have been very open about this down side of playing a game on this level. “I have my ways if I'm feeling too overwhelmed or if I see too many comments about myself. I just try to stay low, and off social media.” There’s also a pressure she puts on herself to perform. She’s one of the best tennis players of all time and that’s a type of internal pressure most of us will never understand. “There is always going to be pressure, especially when you're number one and so expectations are high, but I wouldn't say these expectations from the outside are the ones that are bothering me,” Świątek admits. “Sometimes I'm on top of myself because I'm a perfectionist and I would say that the most work that I have to do is on myself rather than on the expectations from the outside. The season is long and there are some periods where you feel like you're underperforming and then the pressure can be really tough.”

In a panel discussion with Courteney Cox (Friend’s star and tennis lover Courteney Cox came to surprise Świątek and play a game with her on the court. Świątek is a huge fan), she expressed that she’s working on her confidence for both her game and her well-being. “I’m glad I look confident,” she said, admitting that she doesn’t always feel that way.

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of On</cite>
Courtesy of On

Part of this growing confidence is understanding her place among tennis legends. Now that stars like Serena Williams, Maria Sharpova, and Danielle Collins have retired, younger players Świątek, Gauff, and Sabalenka are part of a new generation of women’s tennis taking up the baton, and moving the sport forward. “I took it for granted when I started on tour,” she says when I ask about this, especially in light of conversations around pay equity. In Tennis, grand slam prizes for men and women are equal – something that shouldn’t be novel but in sports is nearly unheard of. “I was young, but [recently] I learned that not so long ago it wasn’t like this. I feel pretty lucky and grateful that there has been this woman fighting before us,” she says, referencing Billie Jean King’s pioneering push for pay equity in tennis. “But there is for sure some work to do still, and it's not all perfect.”

Still, she’s doing major things across the sport, namely, debuting her very own kit with Roger Federer-backed On. At the Paris event, Świątek wore the look that she helped design and will debut it at the 2024 French Open. It features a white skirt and white t-shirt that has a purple and orange gradient. “Purple is my favorite color,” she says. On collaborated with Świątek on the design, taking notes on her preferences in terms of fit, color and style. The kit will now be available to the masses, in perfect timing with the rise of “tenniscore(thank you Zendaya).

“Has it changed?” she asked about the rise in tennis-focused fashion before launching into a very on-brand, humble quip. “I just hope people like it.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue