Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina ‘threats’ to Iga Swiatek, but John McEnroe hopes ‘politics won’t disturb Sabalenka’

Shahida Jacobs
Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina after match

Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina are “going to be real challengers” to world No 1 Iga Swiatek, according to John McEnroe.

Swiatek surged to the top of the WTA Rankings for the first time following Ashleigh Barty’s retirement in March last year and she dominated the remainder of the season as she won eight titles – including the French Open and US Open.

The Pole was the clear favourite to win this year’s Australian Open, but she was dispatched by Rybakina in the fourth round with the Kazakh player going on to lose in the final against Sabalenka.

Saturday’s Sabalenka-Rybakina final was a brilliant affair as they both played power tennis with the former coming out on top with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Former world No 1 McEnroe feels it is good for women’s tennis with the pair likely to pose a threat to Swiatek.

“I think they’re both going to be real challengers now for Iga Swiatek and that’s a very good thing,” he told Eurosport.

“They’ll obviously both have a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. I hope that the politics won’t disturb Sabalenka. You have to wonder what will happen in Wimbledon. So hopefully that’s not going to be an issue.

“As far as their tennis abilities, yes they can be a threat to Swiatek.

“Mentally, it looked like Swiatek was dealing with some issues in Australia. Whether it was the pressure or something off the court I don’t know, but she was not at her best. But I suspect on clay she’ll be back so she’ll probably go at the French Open as the big favourite.”

Rybakina, of course, won Wimbledon last year while Sabalenka was unable to compete following the All England Club’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

There are still doubts over whether or not Sabalenka and company will be allowed to play at Wimbledon this year.

McEnroe also praised the 24-year-old’s mentality following a difficult 2022 season.

“I’m really happy for her because obviously, mentally and emotionally, she’s been through a lot,” he said. “People wondered if she could handle that and I think at the end of the day she really stepped up.”

READ MORE: Aryna Sabalenka goes from underarm serving and 428 double faults in 2022 to mentality monster

He added: “At the end, you could argue that she was serving even better than Rybakina. So she kept her nerve, even if you could feel that she was close to stumbling when she had to finish.

“That last game, you could just feel the tension and for most of the match too because she double faulted on the very first point of the match. And then on the next point, an ace.
“So for her, it was like a roller coaster but she stayed very positive generally and that says a lot.

“God bless her, she worked a lot on it. It was an exciting match, two big hitters, a lot of emotions and a great winner in the end. I think it’s great for women’s tennis that she won it.”