Iga Swiatek, set to take over from Ash Barty as the new world No.1, admits she was reduced to tears by the bombshell news of the Australian’s retirement.
The queen may have hung up her racquet – but the show had to go on at the Miami Open as the world’s leading tennis women on Wednesday tried to come to terms with the shock of Barty’s decision to quit at the age of just 25.
Most dumbfounded of all was Swiatek, about to find herself as a 20-year-old world No.1 – Poland’s first-ever player to hit the top.
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Her tears came partly because she was so sad about Barty calling it a day when she’d looked forward to playing her for years to come, but also at the crazy thought of suddenly being thrust into a new exalted position.
“You already know that I like to cry, so I was crying for a long time,” Swiatek explained in Miami.
“There was lot of confusion in me, for sure. But also sadness because when I think of the player that is really complete in terms of physicality, mentality, tennis-wise, I always thought of Ash and I always looked up to her.
“I mean, I still do!
“It would be really nice also to be able to compete against her for the next few years and actually try to play better and better, to be able to beat her slice. We’re going to miss her, for sure.
“I really respect and I really think she’s brave that she has made this decision because with all the expectations around.
“That’s an example not only for us tennis players or other athletes, but every person that they should put their own happiness first.”
Even those players who may believe that opportunity now knocks for them with Barty retired were left recognising it was a day to pay respects to a great champion.
US Open winner Emma Raducanu said she found Barty an “inspiration” during her short time in the professional ranks.
“I just want to wish Ash all the best because she had a great career,” said the 19-year-old.
“She was a great player and brought a lot of variety to the game. I really respected that. I took a lot of inspiration from her, just how she’s able to mix things up.”
Raducanu, who said she wanted to be in the game until her 30s, said she could understand how Barty’s dalliance with cricket during his first retirement must have helped.
“If you get over-saturated with one thing, it’s not healthy with anything you do,” she said.
“I feel like that just shows if you take time off, you come back, you’re hungry, you’re ready. She basically cleaned up when she came back!”
Meanwhile, more tributes flooded in for Barty from tennis royalty, headed by Serena Williams, who tweeted: “@ashbarty I can’t lie I was sad to read your decision but also happy for your new chapter.
“Always your fan close up and afar. Sending all my love.”
Billie Jean King said: “Australia has a rich history in tennis, and @ashbarty has represented it so well.
“I have no doubt she will continue to inspire and make a positive difference in the world. I wish her all the best in this next chapter of her life.”
And Martina Navratilova echoed the sentiments of the tennis world, saying: “Enjoy this chapter of your life after tennis – we will miss you, your smile and your beautiful game.”