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The No.1 Ranking is on the Line in Paris for Swiatek and Sabalenka

By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday May 26, 2023

It started as an impossible dream, but these days Aryna Sabalenka’s courageous quest to take the No.1 ranking from Iga Swiatek is looking more and more, well, possible.

Tennis Express

Sabalenka, who won her first major title at the Australian Open, was well over 6,000 points behind Swiatek in the WTA rankings when the tournament in Melbourne commenced. This week, she is less than 1400 behind, and has a serious chance to finish the Parisian fortnight as the World No.1.

How did it happen?

Sabalenka’s dedication to craft has played a massive role. The Belarusian has turned over every rock in search of her top tennis. She has fought through adversity and improved many elements of her game, and it has led her to the best season of her career.

After defeating World No.1 Swiatek for her third title of the season, the World No.2 will now set her sights on making a big splash in Paris for the first time. In five previous appearances she has never been beyond the third round, but with the confidence that comes with her success this season, things could change soon.

If Swiatek doesn’t reach at least the quarters in Paris, Sabalenka will rise to No.1. Per the WTA, the following scenarios are in play if Swiatek reaches the quarters or beyond.

If Sabalenka reaches the Round of 16 or quarterfinals, then Swiatek would need to reach the semifinals to have a chance of staying No.1; if Sabalenka reaches the semifinals, then Swiatek would need to reach the final to have a chance of staying at No.1; If Sabalenka reaches the final, Swiatek could hold on to No.1 only by winning the title.

It’s all news to Swiatek. The Pole is aware of Sabalenka’s rise, of course, but the ranking scenario has been the furthest thing from her mind as she prepares for her Roland-Garros title defense.

“I didn't even know about that,” she said, before adding (after some uproarious laughter in the press room when the journalist apologized for telling her): “No problem. It doesn't change a lot for me.”

It’s not Swiatek’s fault that Sabalenka has closed the gap so rapidly. The Pole has played great tennis in 2023, even if she isn’t slicing the same type of torrid path through the draw that she did in 2022, when she was in the midst of a 37-match winning streak as she tore to her second career Roland-Garros title.

She’s aware of that fact, and eager to rise to the challenge of her rivals over the upcoming fortnight.

“It is an extra motivation, for sure,” Swiatek said on Friday.

The Pole also declared that she likes having other players push her on tour because it engages her and helps her raise her level as well.

“Totally different situation than last year,” she said. “It's nice to have somebody constantly kind of watching you. We played so many matches against each other that tactically we know [each other’s] game pretty well.”

Swiatek likes the idea of using the challenge from Sabalenka, and also from Elena Rybakina, as opportunities to work on her problem solving.

“We also have to kind of come up with some different solutions sometimes, which is pretty exciting, because I never had that yet in my career,” she said. “I think this is what the big three had to do for sure when they played like, I don't know, 30 matches against each other or even more.

“So I'm happy to learn some new stuff. And also, for sure, you know, we are all working really hard to kind of play better and better.”

With the No.1 ranking in play, and Swiatek’s rivals so switched on, this year’s Parisian fortnight promised to be more hotly contested than the last. It will make the spoils that much sweeter for whichever player emerges victorious.