Aryna Sabalenka has declared that she “wants to be No 1” and a few months ago that looked like a very daunting task, but if things go her way the next few months then should well become world No 1.
After opening her Miami Open campaign with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Shelby Rogers, Sabalenka admitted: “Of course I want to be No 1. Of course I want to win more Grand Slams, which is normal.
“I think every one of us, everyone wants to do that. Probably that’s why it helped me to stay focused and helped me to keep working and just keep doing my best every day.”
Usurping Iga Swiatek at No 1 in the WTA Rankings appeared to be impossible at the start of the year as she enjoyed handy buffer in the points table.
And by handy buffer we mean she had a 6,000-point advantage over second-placed Ons Jabeur when the new tennis season got underway in Australia.
With Sabalenka winning the Australian Open and picking up 2,000 points the gap at the top was reduced to 4,385 and with Swiatek failing to successfully defend her Indian Wells Open title, the lead currently stands at 3,235.
And there is further good news for Sabalenka and the rest of the chasing pack as Swiatek – who started this week on 9,975 points – will drop another 1,000 points after the Miami Open as she is not defending her title due to injury.
That effectively leaves the Pole on 8,975 points while Sabalenka started the event on 6,740 points, but after losing in the second round last year, the Belarusian is already ahead of the curve.
Should Sabalenka win the title in Florida – it’s a big if, but you wouldn’t put it past her the way she is currently playing – then she will move to 7,730.
Looking ahead to the clay-court season
Swiatek dominated on clay last year as won titles in Stuttgart, Rome and Roland Garros and it means she will have 3,500 points to defend on the red dirt this time around.
Sabalenka, by contrast, didn’t have the best of times as she fell in the second round in Charleston, lost in the Stuttgart final against Swiatek, lost in the first round in Madrid, exited Rome in the semi-finals and lost in the third round at Roland Garros.
A few poor clay tournaments from Swiatek and a couple of title runs from Sabalenka could well lead to a change at the top of the WTA Rankings sooner than what many people had predicted.
And while clay remains Swiatek’s favourite surface, Sabalenka has had success as she won the Madrid Open in 2021 and reached the semi-final of the Italian Open last year.
Roland Garros, though, is usually where she comes unstuck as she is yet to make it past the third round of the clay-court Grand Slam.
The 24-year-old, though, is determined to keep improving and further improvements could well see her get to the top of the WTA Rankings in the next few months.
“You always have to keep improving, keep learning, because a lot of young players are coming,” Sabalenka said. “For example, Swiatek, she’s moving better. So the first matches I played against her, I felt like physically I’m not ready.
“I’m getting tired after a few points and that’s not how I’m going to win this match. So we spoke with my fitness coach to improve my fitness more. We start working even more, so I improved that part of my game.
“Every time when someone is beating you, it’s pushing you to think about what you have to improve and this is how you keep moving. If someone beat me, I go watch my match. I take some lessons from there. We improve some things and we move on.”