WIMBLEDON, England -- Aryna Sabalenka, up a set and a break on Ons Jabeur, seemed poised to vault into the Wimbledon finals. And, not insignificantly, to wrest the No.1 ranking from Iga Swiatek.
But the talented Tunisian came back to win in three, and so Swiatek will enjoy a 68th consecutive week as the Hologic WTA Tour’s top player. Was that possible No.1 looming in the back of Sabalenka’s mind?
“I wouldn’t say that I was thinking about that,” Sabalenka said later. “For me, it’s more about how you finish the year than during the year you’re first, second, you just go back and forth. I’ll keep pushing myself and do everything I can to finish this year as World No.1.”
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- How words of wisdom comforted Jabeur after Wimbledon setback
- Why Vondrousova's Wimbledon win could also be a glimpse into the future
- Champions Corner: How Vondrousova's casual approach paid off at Wimbledon
The WTA Tour’s post-Wimbledon schedule features Budapest and Palermo this week, followed by Hamburg, Lausanne, Warsaw, Washington D.C. and Prague. Then there are the loaded 1000 events in Montreal and Cincinnati, leading up to the season’s last major in New York.
Needless to say there's a lot going on. Here are some potential storylines to whet your tennis appetites while waiting for the humidity to break:
Who will finish No.1?
If you factor in upcoming events in Warsaw, San Jose, Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open, Swiatek could be defending as many as 2,270 points, while Sabalenka would be defending 1,335. And this does not include any events, including two more at the 1000-level and the WTA Finals, after New York.
What is clearer is that assuming neither Swiatek nor Sabalenka falters, this looks like a two-horse race for the year-end No.1, as No.3-ranked Elena Rybakina currently trails Sabalenka by 3,380 points.
Can Marketa Vondrousova keep it going?
She was the longest of shots, the first unseeded player and the second-lowest ranked woman to win Wimbledon. Vondrousova is the sixth different champion at the All England Club in the past six years after Serena Williams went back to back in 2015-16.
She came to Wimbledon with a single win to her credit on those lavish lawns and now she’s coming off seven straight. Vondrousova, who missed half the season a year ago with a reoccurring wrist injury seems healthy but will have to create another new path. She’s 0-3 in Cincinnati, 5-4 at the US Open and has never played in Canada. That first-time Top 10 ranking will help with better positioning in the draws.
Will Rybakina bounce back?
After winning Wimbledon a year ago, Rybakina went a middling 4-4 for the North American hard-court season. The last gasp was a loss to qualifier Clara Burel (ranked No.131) in the first round of the US Open.
Defending her first major title, Rybakina lost to Jabeur this year in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1. It was a rematch of last year’s final.
“It was kind of new challenge for me coming as a defending champion,” Rybakina said. “It’s of course different feeling. I would say that every match I played was a little bit better than the other one. I think no matter the result of today, it was a positive few weeks for me here.
“I just need to work a little bit more now before the U.S. swing. I will take a lot of positives from these two weeks.”
What’s next from Mirra Andreeva?
Let’s review the 16-year-old’s summer at the WTA Tour level:
- Advanced to the fourth round in Madrid, losing to Sabalenka.
- Won three qualifying matches at Roland Garros, then two in the main draw before falling to Coco Gauff in the third round.
- Made it to the fourth round when she ran into Madison Keys.
It all adds up to 11 wins in 14 matches. Avert your eyes because her future isn’t just bright, it’s potentially blinding. Andreeva is still playing under the Age Eligibility Rule, so her playing schedule will be limited and strategic until she turns 18. But one thing is for sure: if she's in the draw, it's a draw to watch.
How will Jabeur regroup?
She was inconsolable after losing to Vondrousova in the final. There are two ways to look at it: 1) Jabeur is 0-3 in major finals, 2) She’s made three of the past five major finals. That’s more than Swiatek and Rybakina (2) and Sabalenka (1). The difference, of course, is that they have won five of the past six major titles.
Jabeur believes things happen for a reason and should soon regain an equilibrium. She can take solace from the fact that Simona Halep started 0-3 in Grand Slam singles finals and went on to win two. Kim Clijsters, who raced to the locker room to console Jabeur after Saturday's final, lost her first four. The Belgian great finished with four.
We are going to make it one day. I promise ❤️ 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/Up0pLT12HF— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) July 15, 2023
Can Elina Svitolina keep riding the wave?
The Ukrainian star was the emotional center of the fortnight. After giving birth to a daughter in October, Svitolina was ranked No.1,344 in April. After a run to the quarterfinals in Paris and semifinals at Wimbledon she’s on the cusp of the Top 25. Svitolina defeated Victoria Azarenka and Swiatek before losing to Vondrousova in the semifinals.
Motherhood and the ongoing struggle at home have had a positive impact on her game. Svitolina’s playing freely, with an aggressiveness we haven’t seen.
Will Swiatek repeat in New York?
Her forehand broke down in the loss to Svitolina, but Swiatek posted her best Wimbledon effort to date by reaching the quarterfinals. It’s easy to forget that she turned 22 at the end of May.
✅It's been a while since I wrote more than few sentences here and maybe now it's a good opportunity to elaborate.— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) July 14, 2023
✅ Minęła chwila odkąd pisałam tutaj coś dłuższego i może to dobry moment, żeby do tego wrócić.
Even carrying the No.1 ranking, Swiatek’s US Open win last year caught some people by surprise. Swiatek defeated three Top 10 players down the stretch -- Jessica Pegula, Sabalenka and Jabeur -- and showed enormous poise.
The Big Three, not surprisingly, have been the best this year in the majors. It’s likely one of them will take home the US Open prize. With three Slams already in the can, here are their collective records: Sabalenka (17-2), Swiatek (14-2), Rybakina (12-3).