Aryna Sabalenka is set to become the new No. 1 in women's tennis after Iga Swiatek's US Open loss.
Sabalenka said she was "sad" to see her rival lose because she wanted to face Swiatek directly.
"I didn't want to become world No. 1 like this," Sabalenka said Monday. "I want a battle for this."
NEW YORK — Aryna Sabalenka is set to realize a dream she's harbored since childhood: Becoming the world's No. 1-ranked women's tennis player.
After the 2023 US Open — where the 25-year-old Belarusian is still vying for her second career Grand Slam title — she'll assume the mantle of her sport. But after her Round of 16 victory on Monday, Sabalenka admitted that she's not fully satisfied with the career-defining accomplishment.
"I didn't want to become world No. 1 like this," Sabalenka said during her post-match press conference. "I want a battle for this."
Sabalenka will take the top spot after another player, 22-year-old Iga Swiatek, was recently eliminated from the competition.
This year's Australian Open champion, Sabalenka has been nipping at the heels of Swiatek — the world No. 1 for the past 74 weeks and reigning champion of the US Open — throughout the 2023 season. But Sabalenka was finally guaranteed to assume the No. 1 ranking if she outlasted her Polish rival in Flushing Meadows.
Swiatek's three-set loss to Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko Sunday made the takeover official. But in her on-court interview Monday, Sabalenka said she was disappointed that Swiatek lost because she "really wanted to have this battle and decide everything on court."
"I was sad, but at the same time I have to be happy because it's not like she just fell," Sabalenka later explained in her press conference. "All year I've been playing well. I put her under pressure. I was just sad and happy at the same time."
Swiatek admitted after Sunday's defeat that defending her No. 1 spot was "a little bit stressful" and that the entire season "was really tough and intense." While she previously told Insider she knew she "shouldn't really just overanalyze it or think about" her top ranking, she noted Sunday that "sometimes when you force yourself not to think about stuff, the result is the opposite."
Still, Sabalenka — who faces China's Qinwen Zheng in the US Open quarterfinals Wednesday — had nothing but praise for her young foe. She called Swiatek "unbelievable" and said she "motivates me to keep pushing, keep trying, keep improving myself."
"I think that's the real sport, you know?" Sabalenka said. "When you push yourself to the limits and you're trying to get better."
"I feel like it's great that we're playing great this year, we're pushing each other," she added. "I really hope we'll keep doing that and we'll keep facing each other in the very last stages of the tournaments. We'll battle against each other."
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