How Aryna Sabalenka’s Qatar Open withdrawal affects the world No 1 battle with Iga Swiatek

Shahida Jacobs
Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open winner
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus poses with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning the Australian Open

Aryna Sabalenka has for the second consecutive year opted to skip the Qatar Open and it will give world No 1 Iga Swiatek an opportunity to extend her lead at the top of the WTA Rankings.

Following the successful defence of her Australian Open trophy last week, Sabalenka was due to join her fellow WTA top 10 stars at the WTA 1000 in Doha from February 11-17.

However, the 25-year-old has revealed that she needs more time to recuperate following her exertions at Melbourne Park and pulled out of the high-class field for the hard-court event in the Middle East.

With 1,000 points on offer to the winner of the Qatar Open, Sabalenka’s withdrawal means Swiatek has a chance to give herself a bigger cushion at No 1 in the rankings.

The Pole started her 89th week at No 1 in the rankings on Monday and she is now assured of keeping top spot until the Monday after the Dubai Tennis Championships (February 26), which will leave her just eight weeks shy of 100 weeks at the top.

Swiatek currently holds an 865-point lead over two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka in the official WTA  Rankings, but that will be reduced to 395 points at the beginning of the Doha tournament as the four-time major champion is the defending champion while Coco Gauff is a distant third at the moment.

Top 3 after 2023 Qatar points drop off

Iga Swiatek 9,300
Aryna Sabalenka 8,905
Coco Gauff 7,100

However, with no Sabalenka in the draw, it means any points that the four-time Grand Slam winner picks up at the tournament will give her some extra breathing space at the top. A title run will see her build a lead of 1,395.

Meanwhile, reigning US Open champion Gauff could start to put pressure on Sabalenka in second place if she ends up winning the Qatar Open as she would move to 8,100 points and she will get another opportunity to get even closer the following week.

It all means the battle for the top spot in the WTA Rankings will be transferred to the Dubai Tennis Championships as another 1,000 points will be on offer while Swiatek will drop 585 points after finishing runner-up to Barbora Krejcikova last year.

Sabalenka lost in the quarter-final last year so will drop 215 points, but the gap to the top could be smaller if Swiatek fails to reach the final in Qatar.

READ MORE: 2024 WTA Rankings: Iga Swiatek No 1, Coco Gauff hits new mark, Qinwen Zheng soars, Elina Svitolina in top 20