Swiatek faces French Open test as new 'Big Three' rivalry emerges

Between them Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have won seven tournaments this year

By Reuters

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Defending champion Iga Swiatek, who also won in Paris in 2020, is the player to beat.  AFP
Defending champion Iga Swiatek, who also won in Paris in 2020, is the player to beat. AFP

Published: Fri 26 May 2023, 3:29 PM

Last updated: Fri 26 May 2023, 3:30 PM

The next instalment of a burgeoning three-way rivalry between world number one Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina will play out at the French Open with the world number one spot up for grabs.

Touted as the next 'Big Three' rivalry in tennis and with the sport in desperate need of such narratives, the trio have won seven tournaments between them this year.

They have also appeared in six more finals, confirming their status as favourites going into the year's second Grand Slam tournament that kicks off this week.

Defending champion Swiatek, who also won in Paris in 2020, is clearly the player to beat.

Having won in Qatar and Stuttgart this year, after making the finals in Dubai and Madrid on clay, the 21-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion looks to be hitting top form at just the right time.

But her number one spot in the rankings is under threat with world number two Sabalenka having chipped away at her rival's lead after winning three titles this season.

The Belarusian dug deep to come back from a set down and beat Rybakina in their thrilling Australian Open final after having won in Adelaide as well.

Having struggled for confidence at times in the past, Sabalenka has added consistency to her arsenal this season to challenge for the top spot.

As champion Swiatek has more points to defend in Paris with 25-year-old Sabalenka having never gone past the third round at the French Open.

She will take over the top spot if she either wins the title or goes one round better than the Pole.

After struggling against her last year and losing four consecutive times to Swiatek, Sabalenka has now won two of their last three encounters.

More importantly, she also knows she can beat Swiatek on clay, having won the title in Madrid against her earlier in May,

The pair, however, will also have to deal with the 23-year-old Rybakina, ranked fourth in the world and eyeing her second Grand Slam title.

The reigning Wimbledon champion beat Sabalenka at Indian Wells in straight sets, and did not drop a set against Swiatek in her wins over her at the Australian Open and Indian Wells.

They were also tied on a set each when Swiatek retired in the third set of their quarter-final in Rome, where Rybakina went on to clinch the title.

A finalist in Miami as well this year, in-form Rybakina could meet Swiatek in the semi-finals.

Sabalenka, however, has the somewhat easier route to the final of the three rivals as they prepare to do battle again.

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