NEW YORK -- For the third consecutive Slam, the No.1 ranking is in play.
World No.1 Iga Swiatek will spend her 74th and 75th consecutive week at the top during the New York fortnight. But the Pole could see her streak end if she fails to go one round further than No.2 Aryna Sabalenka at the US Open.
Sabalenka has come tantalizingly close to overtaking Swiatek over the last few months. She had match point against Karolina Muchova in the French Open semifinals, where a win over Swiatek in the final would have boosted her to No.1. Then, at Wimbledon, she was two games away from the No.1 ranking before faltering to Ons Jabeur in the semifinals.
As she readies for the last Slam of the season, Sabalenka says she's not letting the chase for No.1 preoccupy her.
"I don't need to push it on the side because this is not something I'm really thinking during the tournament, during the matches," Sabalenka told reporters at US Open Media Day. "I know that I had and probably I have the opportunity to become World No.1, but there is still a lot of job to be done. I'm focusing on myself more than on the ranking.
"I know that if I'll bring my best tennis, if I'll do my best, I know that I'm able to do that. I'm trying to shift my focus more on myself, on my game, on improving myself more."
Twelve months ago, Sabalenka and Swiatek faced off in the US Open semifinals. Sabalenka led by a break in the third set before Swiatek mounted a comeback to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. She went on to win her second major of the year and first on hard courts.
"Winning tough matches, losing tough matches, what I learned in the past [is] all these matches, you're not losing them, you're learning to become stronger," Sabalenka said. "I know that in the future these tough losses will help me to win some great matches.
"That's why I have this short memory. Okay, I lost, the lesson is learned, it's time to move on. I know this match will help me in the future."
This year, Sabalenka finally broke through to capture her first Slam title, winning the Australian Open in January. Since that run, she has won one title, in Madrid, but has been a consistent feature in the business end of nearly every tournament. She has made the semifinals or better in eight of her 13 events this year. The only player with a better clip is Swiatek, who has made the final four in 10 of her 13 events.
Sabalenka will open her tournament on Tuesday. She faces Belgium's Maryna Zanevska in the first round.