Shiffrin and Swiatek keep learning to win from each other

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United States' Mikaela Shiffrin smiles as she gets to the finish area after completing an alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill race, in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

They both tend to shy away from the spotlight despite winning regularly. They both compete in individual sports. And they’ve both ascended to the top as their much more well-known predecessors, Lindsey Vonn and Serena Williams, headed toward retirement.

So it’s no surprise that American skier Mikaela Shiffrin and Polish tennis player Iga Swiatek are drawn to each other.

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It all started a couple of years ago when Swiatek said Shiffrin was a role model for her. Then the pair started trading compliments and messages via social media before engaging in an extensive conversation on Instagram.

On Friday, as Swiatek routed qualifier Cristina Bucsa 6-0, 6-1 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open a few hours before Shiffrin finished fourth in a downhill to leave her tied with Vonn for the women’s World Cup record of 82 wins, the tennis player and the skier renewed their long-distance conversation.

Long-distance, that is, because the pair have never met in person.

“We are both on tour, so it’s kind of hard,” Swiatek said after her match in Melbourne. “But she always invites me somewhere. I always invite her somewhere. … It’s hard to break (this trend) because we’re both pretty busy.

“I really appreciate what Mikaela is doing. She’s a champion. The way she talks about also mental health and all the things that she struggles with. I think it’s also helping other athletes to understand a little bit more how it is to be an athlete, and what challenges we face and how to overcome them sometimes.”

Shiffrin spoke openly about the huge expectations she faced shortly before she entered last year’s Beijing Olympics as a big favorite in multiple events. She then didn’t win a medal in her six races.

“It’s better to know that there’s other people who feel the same way," Shiffrin said Friday in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. "So when we share those stories, for other athletes it’s helpful — and for people in general. I think everybody deals with that on a daily basis.”

At 21, Swiatek is six years younger than Shiffrin. But she’s already ranked No. 1 and is a three-time major champion.

“I love how she plays tennis. Her style is so beautiful. It’s methodical and beautiful at the same time and it reminds me of (Rafael) Nadal or (Roger) Federer,” Shiffrin said. “And she also has such an incredible mentality about tennis, about competitions. … She’s staying focused on the right things and that’s really cool to see and actually something I could learn from.”

Besides breaking Vonn’s record, Shiffrin also needs only four more wins to match Ingemark Stenmark’s overall mark — between men and women — of 86 World Cup wins.

“I really like how she handles the pressure because people would have thought that it’s going to be obvious that she’s going to break the record,” Swiatek said. “It’s sometimes hard to deal with that when all eyes are on you and you have to still be kind of patient and down to earth, really work hard to achieve that, because in sport nothing’s going to come for free."

Swiatek also appreciates how Shiffrin has stayed virtually injury-free during her career by being very selective about when and where she races.

“I don’t know a lot about skiing, but it’s just what I feel,” Swiatek said. “I guess it’s a healthy way to ski kind of and to be consistent throughout the whole season.”


AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.


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