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WTA ‘Big Three’ now its top three

  • Matt Trollope

It happened, somewhat quietly, in the week after Roland Garros.

The release of the WTA rankings on 12 June marked Elena Rybakina’s rise to world No.3, meaning she, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka occupied the world’s top three spots.

It felt apt, on every level.

In 2023 the trio has, unofficially, become known as the women’s ‘Big Three’, given they held the majority of the sport’s biggest prizes – including all four major titles between them.

The WTA 'Big Three' currently hold all four Grand Slam singles titles between them. [Getty Images]

That was even before Swiatek won Roland Garros two weeks ago, becoming the first woman to defend a Grand Slam title since Serena Williams at Wimbledon 2016.

Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina have occupied the top three positions in the WTA Race for almost every week since late February.

But it took extra time for this to be reflected in the rankings, given Rybakina’s Wimbledon triumph last year was not rewarded with ranking points.

Since then, Rybakina reached the Australian Open final and lifted WTA 1000 trophies in Indian Wells and Rome. She also reached the Miami Open final.

Her career-high ranking has led to another breakthrough; at Eastbourne this week she will be the top seed at a tournament for the first time in her career.

Another factor propelling the ‘Big Three’ narrative has been the number of finals the trio have contested this season – often against each other. 

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Rybakina will be shooting for a fifth final of 2023 in Eastbourne, which would see her equal Swiatek and Sabalenka, both of whom are 3-2 in title matches this year.

Swiatek could notch a sixth final at this week’s grass-court event in Bad Homburg, Germany.

These numbers are approaching those attained by the last WTA ‘Big Three’ of Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

Serena Willliams (centre), Maria Sharapova (L) and Victoria Azarenka (R) scooped gold, silver and bronze medals respectively in the London 2012 Olympics tennis singles event. [Getty Images]

They reached nine, nine and seven finals, respectively, in 2012. And like the current three, they often played those finals against one another. 

Sabalenka and Rybakina clashed in an Australian Open 2023 final for the ages, a match former Australian star Alicia Molik commentated on and described as “the biggest-hitting women's final I think I've ever seen”. 

They set up a re-match in the Indian Wells final in March, this time won by Rybakina.

Swiatek and Sabalenka then met in back-to-back finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, with the latter an especially memorable encounter.

They came extremely close to another meeting in the Roland Garros final; Sabalenka reached match point when ahead 5-2 in the third set of her semifinal against Karolina Muchova.

Had that match-up eventuated, Swiatek and Sabalenka would have also battled for the world No.1 ranking.

The top ranking will again be up for negotiation at Wimbledon, setting the stage for another epic fortnight of Grand Slam tennis at the All England Club.

There, Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina will be the top three seeds at a major tournament for the first time.