After Serena Williams In retirement, the questions arose: Who would fill the gap that has arisen in women’s tennis? And would any player be able to achieve a similar level of dominance?
Now a trio of players have emerged who have proven ready to take over.
Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka And Elena Rybakina, the top three ranked players in the world, have won the last five Majors together. And their mutual success has led to a legendary comparison of some of the sport’s most respected voices.
“There are now three players that could be that [Roger] springer, [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] “Djokovic from women’s tennis, and we know who they are: Iga, Aryna and Elena,” said Chris Evert, the 18-time major champion and ESPN analyst. said in March.
“I see a rivalry between these three that could be very interesting. When Serena retired we were like, ‘Oh my god, women’s tennis is in trouble and where will the next champion come from?’ I think we’re looking at where the next champion will come from – if not three great champions.”
How did Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina stand out from the crowd? Is this “Big Three” mantra fair or premature? And what can we expect from them at Wimbledon when it starts on Monday?
The origin story
The confrontational nature of tennis lends itself perfectly to popular rivalries. It’s at the heart of the sport, dividing fans and nurturing a following. She accepted women’s tennis: Serena Williams-Venus WilliamsSteffi Graf-Monica Seles, Graf-Navratilova and of course Margaret Court-Billie Jean King to name a few.
As Serena Williams’ reign has slowly come to an end over the past eight years, the women’s singles titles have been split between a diverse group of champions. Rivalries have died down as the sport has become a scattered roster of various winners. From Williams’ last Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open to Swiatek’s win at the 2022 French Open, there have been 13 different winners across the 19 Slams.
But since then it’s become a familiar group, clinching the big titles, topping the leaderboards and knocking out their nearest rivals. Swiatek won the 2022 Roland Garros title by winning Coco Gauff in the final. Rybakina pushed past Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 at Wimbledon. Swiatek then repeated her French Open triumph by defeating Jabeur in straight sets at the US Open. Sabalenka started 2023 with a three-set Australian Open win over Rybakina, whom Swiatek defeated Karolina Muchova last month in Paris.
Since the beginning of 2022, the trio has also won seven of the 13 WTA 1000 mandatory tournaments so far – and won eight titles this year alone.
Ahead of the French Open, Swiatek said the frequency of matches between the three meant they had to make special plans for each other. “Sometimes we somehow have to come up with other solutions, which is pretty exciting because I’ve never had that in my career,” Swiatek said of encounters with Sabalenka or Rybakina. “I think the ‘Big Three’ had to do that.”
Sabalenka said at the French Open that she believes her collective form “takes everyone to the next level”. She added: “It’s always tough fights against Iga or Elena, that’s really an extra motivation.”
Asked if she’s developing a strong rivalry with Swiatek and Sabalenka, Rybakina replied, “I think we’re kind of like that.” [are] push each other. So yes, of course I say yes.
Is the title “The Big Three” justified?
Many in the tennis world were quick to nickname the trio the ‘Big Three’ including Evert, seven-time major champion Mats Wilander and Serena Williams’ longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
WTA has its big 3!
Sabalenka, Sviatek, Rybakina.
Third doesn’t have the ranking simply because her points from winning Wimbledon weren’t shown.
– Patrick Mouratoglou (@pmouratoglou) May 7, 2023
Jessica Pegulawho was 3rd before falling behind Rybakina after the French Open thinks this is justified.
“They played really solid tennis,” said Pegula in Paris. “Iga, we already know that from last year. Aryna felt like she was the breakthrough in Australia in terms of winning a Slam, but I think her results have always been up there. Then Elena too at the end of last year. I mean. “I think they deserve it when you see how consistent they are.”
After several years at the helm of Grand Slam champions, Pegula added that her stability at the top is “great for women’s tennis.”
But the trio certainly have a long way to go – 59 major titles to be precise – if they are to reach the status of tennis’ original Big Three.
And they don’t seem to give in to the idea of standing out from the crowd. Just about an hour after Swiatek won Roland Garros – her third French Open title in four years – she was asked if this trio is ushering women’s tennis into a new age of dominance.
“I don’t really analyze that because I know it’s something you guys created and I understand the fans love that,” Swiatek said. “I kind of just focus on myself and don’t care about the other two players.”
Rybakina also expressed reservations about this in March.
“I think it’s still too early because there are too many tournaments ahead of us, but the three of us definitely have a really good start to the season and the question is who can maintain this level,” Rybakina said said after winning the title in Indian Wells. “It’s like that at the moment, but the season is still long, so we’ll see how it ends.”
Even if the nickname is premature, the stats show that they are dominating at the moment. In 2023 Belinda Bencic (Adelaide, Abu Dhabi) and Petra Kvitova (Miami, Berlin) are the only players outside of the trio to have won more than one singles title this year.
Nobody on the tour has more WTA titles since the start of the 2018 season than Swiatek (14) and Sabalenka (13). Rybakina has won five titles in that time, three of them last year.
“They’ve been the most consistent in recent years,” Evert said this week. “They have shown in the big games that they can handle pressure well. They have different styles, temperaments and personalities, which makes for great and interesting rivalries.”
Next up: Wimbledon
The trio bring varying amounts of momentum to the All England Club.
Swiatek is just weeks away from winning her fourth Major title, but grass remains her weakest surface. The 22-year-old played her only lead-in tournament in Bad Homburg this week and was pushed to three sets in her opening round match against her Tatyana Maria. She eventually reached the semifinals, but then had to retire due to suspected food poisoning. In her previous three appearances at Wimbledon, her best result was the fourth round in 2021. Last year her 37-game winning streak at the tournament ended in a 6-4, 6-2 loss to Alize Cornet in the third round.
“I didn’t have as much confidence as on other surfaces,” she said after the defeat in 2022. “Maybe that’s why. Maybe I should change that next year.”
But if Swiatek surprised herself and found a way to win the title, she could break her current tie with her Naomi Osaka and have the second most major titles among active WTA players, behind only Venus Williams.
Sabalenka reached the semi-finals in her last appearance at the All England Club in 2021, but along with all the other Russian and Belarusian players, Sabalenka was banned from playing last year. She lost her round of 16 match – her only grass court tournament before Wimbledon – in Berlin last week against Veronica Kudermetova6-2, 7-6 (2).
Like Sabalenka, Rybakina caught an early upset in Berlin, failing in three sets in the same round Donna Vekic. She was due to play at Eastbourne this week but was eliminated before her first-round match, citing the same viral illness as before forced her to withdraw from the French Open ahead of their third-round match earlier this month. According to the BBCRybakina said her ongoing recovery has been “very difficult” and that she wants to give herself time to rest and prepare for the third Major of the year.
Last year, at her second Wimbledon appearance, Rybakina shocked the field with her dominant run to the final and title win over Ons Jabeur. Thanks to her powerful serve and fighting spirit, Rybakina bounced back after losing the first set in the final to secure her first Grand Slam victory. No ranking points were awarded and She admitted that she didn’t feel like a Grand Slam winnerbut now, assuming she’s perfectly healthy, she’ll have a chance to prove that 2022 wasn’t a fluke.
“She has the perfect game on grass when everything works,” said Evert.
Of the three, Swiatek has the most favorable draw. Sabalenka and Rybakina are in the same half, as are title contenders Jabeur, Kvitova, Yelena Ostapenko And Barbora Krejcikova. Rybakina could potentially face Ostapenko in the fourth round and Jabeur or Kvitova in the quarterfinals. Sabalenka could face Muchova in the fourth round and Krejcikova in the last eight.
Swiatek could face Bencic, who hasn’t played a grass tournament this year, in the fourth round and Gauff in the quarterfinals. Pegula is the highest seeded player she faced in the semifinals.
But even the oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook see little difference between the three players, with Swiatek the favorite but all are odds of 5-1 or better as of Friday to win the Wimbledon title. According to SportsOddsHistory.com, the last time three or more women had such a chance to compete in the event was in 2008 for Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova And Ana Ivanovic.
While Swiatek and Rybakina’s recent illnesses show that anything can happen and nothing is guaranteed at Wimbledon, one thing is clear: Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina will remain the top contenders in the WTA for the foreseeable future.