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Iga Swiatek versus Ash Barty ... what if?

3 minute read

Iga Swiatek is out to emulate Ash Barty as Wimbledon champ but the question of how she'd have got on against the retired Aussie remains a tantalising one.

ASHLEIGH BARTY. Picture: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

When Iga Swiatek takes over the time-honoured Wimbledon date that had been earmarked for Ash Barty, it will be hard not to ponder 'what if?'...

What if the now-retired Barty had still been playing, ready to open up on centre court in the traditional Tuesday spot reserved for the Ladies champion?

What if the Australian had been at SW19 to tackle the young Polish phenomenon Swiatek, who's not lost a single match since Barty called it a day in March and who's now landed the accolade of opening up on centre against Croatian Jana Fett?

And what if they'd clashed at Wimbledon to help answer the question that's hung in the air for the past three months of utter domination by Swiatek?

That is, who really is the best?

"I guess we'll never know now," shrugs Barty's former Australian Fed Cup teammate Astra Sharma, pondering who'd have come out on top today with the season's two soaraway No.1s both at the very top of their game.

It is, of course, an academic exercise, with Barty having swapped her business racquet for a leisurely nine-iron.

But it's one of those irresistible sporting debates, nonetheless.

To a tour regular like Sharma, two things stand out about the pair - one, the "ridiculous" quality of their match-by-match domination and, two, their extraordinary ability to prove nice guys really can be winners.

"When you look at people like Ash and Iga, it's like Serena (Williams), (Rafael) Nadal, (Roger) Federer - they're just champions week in week out and you take it granted for how easy they make it look," says Sharma.

"Because as a player, you know how much it takes to win, and to back it up week in, week out - that's what's so impressive to me.

"What Ash and Iga have done was ridiculous to me, especially when you have mounting pressure, a target on your back like they have."

The facts of their 2022 seasons are these.

Barty won all her 11 matches this year, with two tournament triumphs and one grand slam, for the loss of one solitary set, the very first of the season she played against Coco Gauff.

So she ended her career winning 22 straight sets, only one of which even stretched her to a tiebreak - the very last one she played in her Australian Open final triumph over Danielle Collins.

Swiatek then took the baton, collecting successive titles in Qatar, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and the French Open in Paris, a 35-match winning streak that's equalled Venus Williams' 21st-century record as the longest run by a woman player.

The 20-year-old has been so brilliant it's easy to forget her amazing 44-3 record this year featured a 6-4 6-2 drubbing by Barty, which only mirrored the lesson she also received from the Australian in Madrid in 2021.

Those two victories over a seemingly unstoppable force only remind tennis of what it is missing now that Barty, the one player who seemingly had the all-court skills to strangle and unravel the Pole's power game, is off the scene.

"Between them it could probably go either way, any different day," muses Sharma.

Yet while Barty is tennis history now, and Swiatek seeks to make more tennis history, Sharma can't help reflecting on the shared quality that inextricably links these wonderful players.

"Someone who's that humble, very open, friendly and down to earth like those two - you couldn't wish that success for nicer people."

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