Who will take over now that Ash Barty has retired?Image: Getty Images
Ash Barty’s retirement from professional tennis was a blunt instrument between the eyes of the WTA community. Barty was coupled with Naomi Osaka as the future of women’s tennis. At 25, she was coming into her own after winning the Australian Open in January, Wimbledon in 2021 and the 2019 French Open.
Barty beat the odds to stand among the giants of the women’s tour. Literally. She was hitting her stride in a sport dominated by powerful serves and long-limbed opponents. Barty was one of the shorter Grand Slam champions of the past 30 years. The 5-foot-5 Barty was in a group including Francesca Schiavone and Justine Henin as the only Grand Slam champions under 5-foot-7 since 1989.
She was also a giant in regards to her presence as the No. 1 player on the tour. One or two talents have dominated each era of women’s tennis. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova ruled the late 1970s and 80s until Steffi Graf plugged in. Monica Seles and Graf blended into the brief Martina Hingis era. Hingis retired due to injuries when she was 21 at the dawn of the Williams era before attempting an unsuccessful comeback, but didn’t experience nearly the same level of success. Ash Barty’s retirement creates a period of flux for the WTA Tour.
Serena Williams is pseudo-retired. She hasn’t played a match in nearly a year, and her symbolic presence on the WTA Tour is similar to Tiger Woods’ status as an active golfer in the PGA. Barty took the pole position after Naomi Osaka’s freefall to No. 78 in the WTA rankings. With Barty out, the women’s side of the draw is waiting for a phenom if Osaka can’t get back on her feet. Only a handful of active players have won multiple Grand Slams, and the only other active player, not named Serena or Osaka, with three Grand Slams, has gone winless in Grand Slams since 2018 (Angelique Kerber).
The No. 2 player in the world, Iga Świątek, is in the best position to claim top-dog status. She was crowned the champion at Indian Wells and leads the tour in points during the 2022 season. Aryna Sabalenka is the next youngest player in the top 10 at 23, but the semifinals of the previous Wimbledon and U.S. Open are the furthest she’s advanced at a Grand Slam. She’s won five titles and advanced to the semifinals of the Australian Open. Getting bounced from the fourth round of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open is a signal that she’s not quite the grass player she needs to be a mainstay at No. 1. Until last June, Swiatek, who admits to having “a kind of love-hate relationship with grass,” had never even won a professional match on a grass court.
Emma Raducanu is only 19 and has won just one tournament in her young career. That title was her fairy-tale run to the final of the U.S. Open. Her defeat of 21-year-old Bianca Andreescu drove her ranking up 332 places. The sustainability of her ranking is still up in the air after losses in her opening match at the Sydney International, Abierto Zapopan and Indian Wells.
Coco Gauff only turned 18 this month, and her game has grown exponentially in the three years since she burst onto the scene. The hype for Gauff is real, though, and Gauff has the pedigree as the world’s former No. 1 junior player. At 15, she reached the third round of the 2019 U.S. Open and advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2019. However, she has to complete the maturation from precocious Grand Slam threat to champion though or she’ll wind up in the same category of Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens.
Gauff’s beginning to defeat top-10 players such as Aryana Sabalenka at the 2021 Italian Open and Paula Badosa at the 2022 Qatar Open. Here are the ages of the remaining top 10 players on the WTA Tour, not including Swiatek, Raducanu and Gauff.
Maria Sakkari: 26
Barbora Krejcikova: 26
Aryana Sabalenka: 23
Paula Badosa: 24
Anett Kontaveit: 26
Karolina Pliskova: 30
Gargine Muguruza: 28
Ons Jabeur: 27
Right now, the WTA Tour feels like it’s taking a nap until Gauff or Swiatek are ready to ascend to the throne. For the foreseeable future, the No. 1 spot is going to be a game of musical chairs.