Swiatek v Sabalenka: A rivalry that calls for entry into the tennis history books

The rivalry between Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka has reached new heights this season and another head-to-head showdown in the Roland-Garros final would come as no surprise.

Sabalenka and Swiatek Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

Chris Evert v Martina Navratilova; Steffi Graf v Monica Seles or Martina Hingis; soon Iga Swiatek v Aryna Sabalenka?

The rivalry between the Polish world No 1 and the Belarusian world No 2 has continued to intensify over the past two years — to the point of becoming an unmissable event. The two players have already played each other 11 times, with an 8-3 advantage in Swiatek’s favor.

Although their most recent matchup in the Rome final was dominated by Swiatek, it was their duel in Madrid — also in the championship match — that impressed the entire tennis world. A three-hour and 11-minute fight with match points on both sides ultimately led to victory for the top-seeded Pole. It was the best match of the season, without a doubt, between the two best players in the world; the best possible advertisement for women’s tennis.

Asked at their respective Roland-Garros pre-tournament press conferences about the importance of this rivalry and the history that it could make in the future, the two players were unanimous on the fact that their matches are always very special and that they push each other both to be better. Of course, it will be necessary to wait until the end of their careers to place the Swiatek-Sabalenka duels on the map of historic rivalries. There is not much missing — except maybe a head-to-head Grand Slam final.

Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek, Madrid 2024
Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek, Madrid 2024 Image Credit: Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

When we play against each other, I feel like it’s a challenge.

Iga Swiatek

“We’ll see if the topic makes it into the history books, because honestly, I don’t think Aryna or I were focusing on that topic,” Swiatek said on Friday in Paris. “We focus more on our own journeys.

“But certainly if you play well and we play well consistently, we will face each other in important matches. I think it’s a good thing, because, you know, she’s been No 2 for a long time and she has already proven that she can play great tennis.

“When we play against each other, I feel like it’s a challenge. I think it also pushes me to become a better player, so I think we both need the each other to grow. But for sure this rivalry is also exciting for the fans. I guess if it’s going to go down in the history books, they’ll have some impact on it, too.”

She motivates me a lot to improve

Aryna Sabalenka

It’s the same story for Sabalenka. She believes her rivalry with Swiatek pushes her to improve and grow as a player, much in the same way as the famous Big Three of men’s tennis. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have pushed each other to achieve great things.

“I think it’s amazing the rivalry with Iga,” Sabalenka stated, “and I would also mention Elena (Rybakina); and there are so many girls who are doing so well, like Coco (Gauff). It’s not just two of us.

“[Swiatek] motivates me a lot to improve, and I think I improve a lot of things because of her. She focused on the things I didn’t know how to do and motivated me to improve.

“It’s hard to talk about having that rivalry like those legends had it. It’s hard to think about it in the moment, but I’ll probably look back and say, ‘Oh, wow, we had something similar to what they had.'”

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