The rivalry between Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka over the WTA World No 1 ranking will ignite again at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open in Doha, which begins on 12 February.
It may be the shortest month of the year, but February is among the busiest in the tennis calendar, with a jam-packed schedule that features 6 tour-level tournaments.
Swiatek wrestled back the top stop from Sabalenka at the WTA Finals in November but, since then, the Belarusian has successfully defended her Australian Open title, while the Pole lost in the 3rd-round in Melbourne, which has trimmed her lead to just 865 points.
The 22-year old Swiatek will drop another 470 points ahead of Doha, where she is the defending champion, which puts the 4-time Grand Slam winner on 9,300 points, while Sabalenka will remain on 8,905 points as she did not compete in Qatar last year.
It is effectively just a 395-point lead for Swiatek, while Coco Gauff will be a distant 3rd as she will drop 100 points.
A title run for Sabalenka, coupled with an early defeat for Swiatek, would have resulted in a change at No 1 in the rankings last year, but there is another twist to their battle because this year’s Qatar Open has been elevated to a WTA 1000 event, with the winner now earning 1,000 points, the runner-up 650 points and a semi-finalist 390.
It means Swiatek will be assured of staying at No 1 just by reaching the final, even if Sabalenka wins the title because the 650 points would give her a 1,045-point advantage.
The 5-week forecast factors all the points that will come off within that particular period from the past year, which means that the player who accumulates the most points during the Middle East swing will be the World No 1 by the end of it.
Swiatek and Sabalenka will play the WTA 1000 double-header of Doha and Dubai, with the Pole leading both events as the top seed, so, a maximum of 2,000 ranking points will be up for grabs.
The best Gauff, the reigning US Open champion, can do is to narrow the gap between her and the two front-runners, and she will break the 8,000-point barrier for the first time in her career if she can win the Doha title.
The Top 3 in the rankings won’t have it all their own way, though, as the Top 16 players in the WTA Rankings are all on the entry list for the first WTA 1000 event, with the exception of Jessica Pegula, who has just withdrawn due to a neck injury.
Pegula, ranked No 4 this week, was the runner-up to Swiatek last year in Doha, when it was a 500-level tournament, while she also reached the semi-finals in Dubai, and she and Gauff are also the two-time defending doubles champions in Qatar.
She joins her American compatriot, Madison Keys, along with Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic as high-profile names to miss the Middle East swing, with Keys nursing a shoulder injury, which forced her to miss the Australian Open, and both Kvitova and Bencic on maternity leave.
Even if Swiatek ends up holding onto her No 1 ranking after Doha, Sabalenka will get another bite at the cherry at the Dubai Tennis Championships the following week, which is another WTA 1000 event and, here, Gauff could be in with a shout as well if she wins in Qatar.
Swiatek finished as the runner-up in Dubai last year, so she will drop 585 points, and Sabalenka lost in the quarter-final (190 points), while Gauff lost in the semi-final (350 points).
This week, the WTA Rankings saw Gauff hitting her new mark, Zheng Qinwen soaring into the Top 10, and Elina Svitolina making it back into the Top 20.
While Swiatek started her 88th week at No 1 on Monday, Gauff returned to No 3 following her run to the semi-final in Melbourne, breaking through the 7,000-point mark for the first time in her career with her tally now standing at 7,200.
Elena Rybakina was the loser among the big names, as she dropped 2 places to No 5 following the Kazakh’s early exit in Australia, while the biggest winner was undoubtedly Zheng, who cracked the Top 10 for the first time in her career after moving up 8 places to No 7 on the back of her run to the final in Melbourne.
Svitolina moved up 4 places to No 19 after the Ukrainian reached the 4th-round at the season’s first Grand Slam, and was the only new entrant in the Top 20, the first time that the former World No 3 is in the Top 20 since May 2022.
AO semi-finalist Dayana Yastremska surged 64 places to No 29, and quarter-finalist Linda Noskova is one place behind the Ukrainian after moving up 20 places.
19-year old Noskova delivered the AO’s biggest upset when she knocked off Swiatek in the 3rd-round, and rises from 50 to 30.
21-year-old Marta Kostyuk, a 3rd Ukrainian, reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final and makes her Top 30 debut at No 28, up 9 places from 37.
The 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva’s rise continues as she is now at a career-high of No 37 after moving up 12 places, while another Russian, Anna Kalinskaya, rose 37 places to No 38.
The biggest mover into the Top 100 was Maria Timofeeva as the Russian climbed 70 places to No 100 after reaching the 4th-round in Melbourne, having come through qualifying.
Katie Boulter is highest ranked British player at No 54, with Jodie Burrage at No 102, while Harriet Dart is at No 104, Heather Watson at 139 and Emma Raducanu sits at 295 after winning one match at the Australian Open.
WTA Rankings Top 20
- Iga Swiatek, Poland – 9,770 points
- Aryna Sabalenka – 8,905
- Coco Gauff, United States – 7,200
- Jessica Pegula, United States – 5,705
- Elena Rybakina, Kazakhstan – 5,688
- Ons Jabeur Tunisia 4,076
- Zheng Qinwen, China – 3,950
- Marketa Vondrousova, Czech Republic – 3,846
- Maria Sakkari, Greece – 3,710
- Karolina Muchova, Czech Republic – 3,520
- Barbora Krejcikova, Czech Republic – 3,081
- Jelena Ostapenko, Latvia – 3,028
- Beatriz Haddad Maia, Brazil – 2,950
- Daria Kasatkina – 2,838
- Liudmila Samsonova – 2,700
- Veronika Kudermetova – 2,495
- Madison Keys, United States – 2,478
- Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic – 2,465
- Elina Svitolina, Ukraine – 2212
- Caroline Garcia France 2,160