A budding Big Three in women's tennis. And they are on the cusp of rivalry like the men have had for the past two decades.

Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka have won a combined five Grand Slam singles titles. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 64.

Swiatek, Rybakina and Sabalenka have been at the top of the sport for roughly a year. Some combinations of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic has been there the last 20.

Swiatek, the world No. 1 from Poland; Rybakina, the 2022 Wimbledon champion who was born and raised in Russia but represents Kazakhstan; and Sabalenka, the 2023 Australian Open champion from Belarus, are still largely known only to tennis geeks.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are among the most recognizable athletes on earth.

So it is with utmost hesitance, caution and respect for what has come before that anyone should invoke the term '' Big Three '' when talking about Swiatek, 21, Rybakina, 23, and Sabalenka, 25.

And yet something has been happening with this group lately in the rivalry-starved women's game -something that could all come together in a glorious rumble during the coming weeks. 

Ever since Ashleigh Barty of Australia retired while atop the rankings in March 2022 at age 25, Swiatek, Rybakina and Sabalenka have been hogging nearly all of the most prestigious trophies.

They have often beaten one another on the way to the winner's circle, giving hope to the tennis executives - if not the rest of the field - that the women's game just might be on the cusp of the kind of rivalries it has been missing for roughly a decade, perhaps even as far back as when Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters were battling for supremacy.

'' It is what you want, the best players playing each other, over and over,'' Steve Simon, the chairman and chief executive of the WTA Tour, said during a recent interview.

The budding rivalry even has a geopolitical back story to add some fuel and antagonism. Swiatek has been among the  most outspoken critic of Russia's invasion, helping to raise millions of dollars to support relief efforts in Ukraine.

She wears a pin with Ukraine's flag on it when she plays. Rybakina and Sabalenka hail from the two countries perpetrating the war, as Kostyuk reminded later.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has continued to cast a pall over the sport, especially whenever players from the Eastern European countries most affected by the conflict compete. Kostyk refused to shake Sabalenka's hand after their match on Sunday.

Swiatek has never gone as far as Kostyuk and the other players from Ukraine have, but whatever relationship Swiatek has with her two biggest rivals, it is a chilly one.

Swiatek said she, Rybakina and Sabalenka respect one another but do not have any relationship at all off the court. Also, she said, she tries not to think about politics when she plays.

 '' When I think about the player, like, personally, it doesn't help,'' she said. ''We don't really have time in a match to over analyze all the other stuff.''

There certainly has not been a shortage of matches to analyze, though.

Swiatek has lost to Rybakina three times this year already - at the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif, and then this month at the Italian Open in Rome, where she retired after injuring her leg early in the third set. Rybakina went on to win the tournament.

Rybakina has provided a blueprint for toppling Swiatek, a three-time Grand Slam tournament winner. Few could do that in 2022, when Swiatek won 37 consecutive matches at one point.

But Rybakina is among the most powerful players in the game, and she uses that ability to put Swiatek on her heels.

'' Against Iga, it's always tough battles,'' Rybakina said earlier this year. 

'' Everybody wants to beat her.''

The World Students Society thanks author Matthew Futterman.


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