PARIS — They played for the first time in Guadalajara at the WTA Finals and Aryna Sabalenka took out Iga Swiatek in a rollicking three sets. Since, then it’s been one-way traffic — Swiatek has won eight of 10 — but the entertainment value has been high, indeed.

And seems to be getting better.

But based on the recent finals in Madrid and Rome between the Hologic WTA Tour’s No.1- and No.2-ranked players, might this become the next great rivalry in women’s tennis?

“We’ll see about if it’s going to go to history books, because honestly, I don’t think either I or Aryna are focusing on that,” Swiatek told reporters Friday at Roland Garros during media day. “We are more focusing on our own journeys. But for sure if you are going to play well, and we are playing well consistently, we will face each other in important matches.

“I think it’s great, because she’s No.2 for a long time and she has already proven that she can play great tennis.”

Sabalenka was equally complimentary.

“I think that’s amazing the rivalry we are having with Iga,” Sabalenka said. “She definitely motivates me a lot to get better, and I think I improve so many things just because of her.

“She kind of like pointed on the things I wasn’t good at and motivate me to get better at.”

That’s what the best rivalries do. Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert lifted each other’s games. So did Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. Same for Venus and Serena Williams.

Swiatek is a two-time defending champion at Roland Garros and is looking to win her third title in four years, while Sabalenka is a two-time reigning Australian Open champion. She had her best effort in Paris a year ago, reaching the semifinals before losing to Karolina Muchova.

Seeded at the top and bottom of the draw, they could meet in the final a fortnight from now.

“For sure when we play against each other, I feel like it’s a challenge,” Swiatek said. “I think it’s also pushing me to become better and better player, so I think we both kind of need each other to grow.

Swiatek beats Sabalenka to complete sweep of Madrid and Rome

“But for sure this rivalry is exciting for the fans, as well. I guess if it’s going to go to history books, they’re also going to have some impact on it.”

Said Sabalenka: “She achieved incredible results here at Roland Garros, and I take it as a challenge, and I like to accept tough challenges. That’s what actually motivates me and brings me more energy to keep going, to keep fighting for what I think I can achieve.

It’s tough to talk about having this rivalry like those legends had. It’s tough to think about that being like in the moment. Probably later after my career I will look back and think, `Oh, wow, we had something similar that they had.’”

The French Open begins Sunday in Paris. Swiatek will take the court against a qualifier in her first-round match, while Sabalenka opens against Erika Andreeva.


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