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A new battle for supremacy?


Will Iga Swiatek have to share a slice of the pie? Will there finally be another enduring rivalry at the very top of the WTA Tour?

Will Iga Swiatek have to share a slice of the pie?

Will there finally be another enduring rivalry at the very top?

Tapped as a potential champion for the past several years, the promising Aryna Sabalenka appears to have mastered even the deadliest weapons in her vast arsenal, making power, consistency and confidence her trump cards.

After falling to Swiatek in two sets in the final of the WTA 500 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, she reigned supreme at the WTA 1000 Mutua Madrid Open. 

Despite her stellar record of 35–6 so far this season, Iga trails Aryna, who’s currently 34–6, in the race to the WTA Finals. They’ve both claimed three titles in 2023, including a Slam.


And in the rankings? After competing in the semis of Roland-Garros for the very first time, the World No.2 moved within 928 points of Swiatek, who successfully defended her points from 2022 with a hat trick on the red dirt.

Aryna Sabalenka_Madrid 2023 champion
Photo: Manu Fernandez # AP

All that makes for interesting weeks ahead as we follow what we hope will blossom into a long rivalry.

The last time there was a real rivalry in the WTA was in the mid-2000s: Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova.

Maria Sharapova & Serena Williams_Australian Open
Photo: Essentially Sports

And yet theirs is one in which the numbers overwhelmingly favour Serena, specifically their 20–2 head-to-head.

And before them? Monica Seles vs. Steffi Graf.

And before them? Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert.

Of course, there have been others, but the most memorable clash in tennis and indeed in all sports is between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.


From May 10, 1976, to August 16, 1987, they relentlessly grappled for the throne with only two armistices orchestrated by Tracy Austin that lasted 21 weeks in total (2 and 19). That’s 588 weeks out of 601. Or, if you prefer, 11.5 years (!). Complete domination.

On a more modest scale, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles went mano a mano for five years.

Steffi Graf and Monica Seles
Photo: Reuters

After prying the sceptre from Martina’s hands, Steffi traded the No.1 and No.2 rankings with Monica for 490 weeks out of 502, from August 17, 1987, to March 30, 1997. It was Arantxa Sanchez Vicario who shunted them aside for the other 12 weeks.

And contrary to popular belief, the rivalry between Serena and Venus Williams wasn’t of the same magnitude.

Venus and Serena Williams
Photo: Getty Images

The only time the sisters fought each other for the No.1 ranking was in July 2002, when Serena took over from Venus. Besides Serena’s 18–13 record against her elder sister, the numbers don’t point to fierce competition.

It’s obviously too early to talk about a continuing clash to rule the WTA between Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka. And while it's unrealistic to expect another dominant rivalry to last as long as those of the past, there’s no reason not to dream about weeks, months and even years of battles for titles in a grand game of tennis chess between the two.

Parity is all well and good, but a mighty rivalry is even better.