What Aryna Sabalenka’s shock Dubai defeat means for WTA Rankings battle with Iga Swiatek

Shahida Jacobs
Aryna Sabalenka in action
Aryna Sabalenka reacts during her tennis match

Aryna Sabalenka’s hopes of regaining the world No 1 ranking from Iga Swiatek in the near future have suffered a big blow after she was stunned by Donna Vekic at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

World No 2 Sabalenka came into the match with an 11-1 record in 2024 as she won the Australian Open and finished runner-up to Elena Rybakina at the Brisbane International. In fact, she had dropped only two sets all year with both of those coming against Rybakina.

After opting to skip last week’s Qatar Open, it looked like business as usual for the two-time Grand Slam winner early on against Vekic as she won the opening set via a tie-breaker, broke in the first game of the second set and found herself one point away from leading 7-6 (7-5), 3-0 as Vekic was 30-40 on her own serve.

However, the Croatian produced an incredible slice passing shot to get back to deuce and she then won 12 of the final 13 games to claim an extraordinary 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-0 victory to move to 6-2 in her head-to-head with the Belarusian.

Asked after the match about what pleased her the most, she said: “Probably the slice passing shot at break point down, 0-2 in the second set. I was kind of on the beach already.”

The win means Sabalenka won’t be able to overtake Swiatek at No 1 after the Dubai event as the Pole has a 1,000-point lead and she still has to play her first match at the tournament.

Live WTA Rankings

Iga Swiatek 9,725 points
Aryna Sabalenka 8,725
Coco Gauff 6,770
Elena Rybakina 6,643

If Swiatek ends up with a deep run in Dubai then Sabalenka’s hopes of usurping her at the Sunshine Double will be virtually impossible.

A title run this week would see Swiatek finish with 10,715 points for a 1,990 lead and that gap will be slightly bigger come the start of the Indian Wells Open as the Pole will only drop 360 points after reaching the semi-final last year while Sabalenka finished runner-up.

And life doesn’t get easier after that as Swiatek missed last year’s Miami Open so she has no points to defend at the WTA 1000 event while Sabalenka has 215 points to defend in Florida after reaching the quarter-final.

The best Sabalenka can do is close the gap to Swiatek by outperforming the four-time Grand Slam winner at the next two events and then have another go during the clay-court season.

Swiatek has 470 points to defend in Stuttgart, 650 in Madrid, 215 in Rome and 2,000 at Roland Garros.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, will defend 305 points in Stuttgart, 1,000 in Madrid, 10 in Rome and 780 at Roland Garros so there will be an opportunity, but Swiatek is unlikely to make it easy for her.

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