WTA Insider speaks with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz about the perils of professional tennis and the importance of training the mind as much as the body.
Daria Abramowicz can think of no better research lab for sports psychology than the high-stakes, high-stress world of Grand Slam tennis. The 33-year-old Warsaw native has served as Polish phenom Iga Swiatek’s sports psychologist for nearly two years, traveling with Swiatek’s team to big events to help address the challenges of playing on the tour.
The 19-year-old has been an unstoppable force in Paris, booking a spot in her first Slam final in just her second main draw appearance at Roland Garros. Unseeded and ranked No.54, Swiatek paved her own way over the fortnight, defeating last year’s finalist Marketa Vondrousova in the first, playing pitch-perfect tennis to oust top seed Simona Halep in a 6-1, 6-2 masterclass, in the Round of 16, and showing no signs of nerves or pressure as she played as the clear favorite to defeat Martina Trevisan in the quarterfinals and Nadia Podoroska in the semifinals. Swiatek is now the first Polish woman to make the Roland Garros in the Open and just the second all-time, following Jadwiga Jedrzejowska, who was a runner-up in 1939.
It is rare to see a young athlete not only employ a full-time sports psychologist but to also speak so openly about her struggles and successes in handling the psychological strains of being a professional athlete.
“I just believe that mental toughness is probably the most important thing in tennis right now because everybody can play on the highest level,” Swiatek told reporters after her fourth-round win. “But the ones that are tough and that can handle the pressure are the biggest ones.
“She just made me smarter. I know more about sports and I know more about psychology and I can understand my own feelings and I can say them out loud.”
“So I always wanted to develop in that way. I was working with some other psychologists, two probably when I was younger. But Daria was the best I could get because she just understands me very well and she knows me very well and she can kind of read my mind, which is weird.
“She was a sailor so she has experience in sports and she was a coach so she has the full package. She just made me smarter. I know more about sports and I know more about psychology and I can understand my own feelings and I can say them out loud.
“She just makes my confidence level higher.”