‘WTA has a Big Three’ – Women’s tennis on the up as Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina dazzle

Shahida Jacobs
Aryna Sabalenka with her trophy
Aryna Sabalenka celebrates

Just over a year ago tennis pundits, former players and fans sounded the death knell for women’s tennis following Ashleigh Barty’s retirement.

It wasn’t just Barty’s retirement that led to concerns as Serena Williams was on the verge of retirement while fellow great Venus Williams was also on her way out.

Many felt that the current crop of players were not consistent enough to lead women’s tennis, others said there was a lack of quality at the top while some argued there were no real rivalries on the WTA Tour.

Step forward to May 2023 and the outlook could not be more different as the likes of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have all at some point proved that there is life after Barty, Serena and Venus.

And suddenly the praise is flowing with renowned coach Patrick Mouratoglou – who has mentored the likes of Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Stefanos Tsitsipas – delighted that women’s tennis has a “Big Three”.

“WTA has its big-3! Aryna Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina. The third one doesn’t have the ranking just because her points from winning Wimbledon haven’t been displayed,” he tweeted after Saturday’s Madrid Open final.

That Madrid Open final was just another indicator of how good women’s tennis is at the moment as world No 1 Swiatek and world No 2 Sabalenka slugged it out in one of the best matches on the WTA Tour in recent years.

Sabalenka was the victor on Saturday as she won 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 for her third title of the 2023 season. However, a fortnight ago it was Swiatek standing with the winner’s trophy as she defeated her rival 6-3, 6-4 in the Stuttgart final.

Former player and Amazon Prime analyst Mark Petchey certainly enjoyed the thriller in Madrid and the general direction in which women’s tennis is heading.

“One of the best matches you will ever see. What a conclusion. What character from both. What charisma,” he wrote. “Women’s tennis in terms of rivalries hasn’t looked this great for awhile. The new frontier. The new norm.”

But it is not just Swiatek and Sabalenka who have taken up mantle as Rybakina have made it a Big Three, with many hoping their rivalry will be similar to that of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Swiatek was first to up her game last year as she became world No 1, won eight titles – including the French Open and US Open – and also enjoyed a 37-match winning streak last year.

Rybakina was next to make her mark as she won her maiden Grand Slam at Wimbledon and this year she followed it up by finishing runner-up at the Australian Open, winning the Indian Wells Masters and claiming another runners-up trophy at the Miami Open. Oh and she has managed to get some impressive wins over Swiatek and Sabalenka on the way.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, has finally hit some consistency. After years of promise and falling short, the Belarusian won the Australian Open at the start of the year, finished runner-up in Indian Wells and Stuttgart and then won her second Madrid Open title.

There will still be ups and downs, but for now women’s tennis is once again in good shape.