Sabalenka’s world number one status – how long could she be on top?

As per the latest WTA rankings updates, Aryna Sabalenka is the world number one. She’s had a phenomenal 2023 season, and in my opinion, she truly deserves the number one ranking. There is nobody that fights as hard as she does out there on the court, and that’s what makes her such a formidable opponent. And sure, she might have lost the US Open final to Coco Gauff, but she’s still on top, so this no doubt cushioned the blow of such a disappointing defeat. Furthermore, Aryna Sabalenka has managed to build quite a gap between herself and Iga Swiatek in terms of the cumulative point totals.

Sabalenka world number one

For the moment, Aryna Sabalenka has 9266 WTA points. In contrast, Iga Swiatek has 8195 WTA points, so there is almost a 1000-point gap between the two. As for a reference point concerning how far ahead these two players are – Coco Gauff, who obviously won the US Open and Cincinnati, has just 6195 WTA points. This gives us a clear image of how dominant Sabalenka and Swiatek have been over the last 12 months, yet it’s Sabalenka who stands above the rest right now.

In fact, she is enjoying her second week in a row as the world’s best player, on paper. And this begs the question, how long will Sabalenka be ranked number one in the world? Well, there are two parts to this answer. The first answer is the mathematical one, and the second answer is the subjective one. Of course, in order to address this question in the most comprehensive manner possible, I’ve covered both below.

The WTA number one: Aryna Sabalenka – how long will her reign at the top last?

At 25 years of age, it’s pretty cool to watch Sabalenka blossoming into the player that we assumed she could be just a few short years ago. And if you’ve watched the Netflix documentary, Break Point, you’ll know that making it to world number one was one of her childhood dreams. This is coupled with the goal that she set with her late father to win two Grand Slams while in her mid-20s. So for me, it’s quite heartwarming to witness Sabalenka achieving these goals, and I’m sure she has more slams to come.

Yet that’s not the debate that we are engaging in today. The debate is how long Sabalenka can remain at the very top of the WTA rankings. And on that note, as promised, I’ve addressed both parts of the answer right here.

The mathematical part

As you may already know, the WTA rankings system operates as a 12-month rolling system. This means that over a period of 52 weeks, year after year, players can gain and lose points from one week to the next. Specifically, their points and subsequent ranking adjust on an exact 52-week cycle. This means that if a player wins 1000 points in a tournament, this will remain part of their cumulative total until 52 weeks later – pretty cool, right? 

That’s also why it’s possible to predict how long Sabalenka can stay on top due to her own points and the points for those who are her immediate threats. Yet since Coco Gauff, the world number three is still over 3000 points away from Sabalenka, it’s Iga Swiatek that poses the biggest threat to the number one ranking. So how do things look? Well, both players are missing from the 1000 event in Guadalajara this week. And since Sabalenka made just the second round in 2022, she won’t lose too many points.

As for the rest of the season, there is one more 1000-level event and the WTA Finals too. However, the remaining 1000-level tournament wasn’t played in 2022, so it’s only the WTA Finals that could have a significant impact. Regarding that, Swiatek made the semis in 2022 while Sabalenka made the finals. Yet since the points available between those rounds are very similar, the math shows us that it’s likely that Sabalenka will stay number 1 until January, at least.

The subjective part

Here comes the subjective part. In my opinion, Aryna Sabalenka has all of the right assets to enjoy a lengthy spell as the world number one. She is a serious fighter who has formidable groundstrokes and a great serve. Such assets allow her to tear through most opponents on the WTA Tour right now, and I can only see the very best being able to remove her from the throne. Yet in January, she must defend a ton of points at the Australian Open, so there is an immediate risk to her ranking at the start of the 2024 season.

But again, in my opinion, if she loses the number 1 ranking, I feel she will gain it back as the year progresses.

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