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After Serena Williams retired, questions loomed large: Who would fill the void left in women’s tennis? And would any player be able to achieve a similar level of dominance?

Now, a trio of players has emerged and proven ready to pick up the mantle.

Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, the top three ranked players in the world, have combined to win the last five majors. And their collective success has created a legendary comparison from some of the sport’s most respected voices.

“There are three players now that could be the [Roger] Federer, [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic of women’s tennis, and we know who they are: Iga, Aryna and Elena,” Chris Evert, the 18-time major champion and ESPN analyst, said in March.

“I see a rivalry with those three that could be very interesting. We thought when Serena retired, ‘Oh, my gosh, women’s tennis is in trouble, and where’s the next champion going to come from?’ I think we’re looking at where the next champion is going to come from — if not three great champions.”

So, how did Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina separate themselves from the pack? Is this “Big Three” mantra fair or premature? And what can we expect from them at Wimbledon when it gets underway on Monday?

The origin story

The confrontational nature of tennis lends itself to much-loved rivalries. It’s at the heart of the sport, dividing fans and nurturing a following. Women’s tennis has embraced them: Serena Williams-Venus Williams, Steffi Graf-Monica Seles, Graf-Navratilova and of course, Margaret Court-Billie Jean King, just to name a few.

As Serena Williams’ reign slowly ended over the past eight years or so, women’s singles titles have been spread out among a varied group of champions. Rivalries have ebbed away, as the sport became a scattered list of different winners. From Williams’ last Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open until Swiatek’s win at the 2022 French Open, there were 13 different winners across the 19 Slams.

But since then, it’s become a familiar group taking the major titles, topping the rankings, and locking out their nearest rivals. Swiatek won the 2022 Roland Garros title by beating Coco Gauff in the final. Rybakina edged past Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 at Wimbledon. Swiatek then served up a repeat of her French Open triumph by beating Jabeur in straight sets at the US Open. Sabalenka started off 2023 by winning the Australian Open in three sets against Rybakina, and Swiatek defeated Karolina Muchova in Paris last month.

Since the start of 2022, the trio has also won seven of the 13 WTA 1000 mandatory tournaments to date — and combined for eight titles this year alone.

Before the French Open, Swiatek said that the frequency of matches amongst the three meant they had to make special plans for one another. “We have to kind of come up with some different solutions sometimes, which is pretty exciting, because I never had that yet in my career,” Swiatek said, of when she faces Sabalenka or Rybakina. “I think this is what the ‘Big Three’ had to do.”

Sabalenka said at the French Open that she believes their collective form is “pushing everybody to a next level.” She added, “It’s always tough battles against Iga or Elena, so that’s really an extra motivation.”

Rybakina was asked whether she is developing a strong rivalry with Swiatek and Sabalenka, and answered: “I think we kind of [are] pushing each other. So yeah, I will say yes, of course.”

Is The Big Three label warranted?

Many in the tennis world have been quick to give the “Big Three” moniker to the trio, including Evert, seven-time major champion Mats Wilander and Serena Williams’ longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

Jessica Pegula, who was ranked No. 3 before falling behind Rybakina following the French Open, thinks it’s justified.

“They’ve been playing really solid tennis,” Pegula said in Paris. “Iga, we already know from last year. Aryna I felt like broke through in Australia as far as like winning a Slam, but I think her results have always been up there. Then Elena at the end of last year as well. I mean, to see them being so consistent, I think they’ve earned that right.”

Following several years of the rotating door of Grand Slam champions, Pegula added their stability at the top is “great for women’s tennis.”

But the trio certainly has a long way to go — 59 major titles to be exact — if they want to reach the status of tennis’ original Big Three.

And they don’t seem to be leaning into the notion that they’re breaking away from the pack. Just an hour or so after Swiatek won Roland Garros — her third French Open title in four years — she was asked whether women’s tennis is entering a new age of domination by this trio.

“I don’t really analyze that, because I know that this is something that kind of you guys created, and I understand that fans love that,” Swiatek said. “I’m kind of just focused on myself and I don’t care about the other two players.”

Rybakina also expressed reservations about it in March.

“I think that it’s still too early because there are too many tournaments ahead, but for sure, the three of us have a really good start to the season and the question is, who can maintain this level,” Rybakina said after winning the title at Indian Wells. “For now, it’s like this but the season is still long, so we’ll see how it’s going to end.”

While the moniker may be premature, the stats show their domination right now. In 2023, Belinda Bencic (Adelaide, Abu Dhabi) and Petra Kvitova (Miami, Berlin) are the only players outside of the trio to have won more than one singles title this year.

No one on tour has more WTA titles since the start of the 2018 season than Swiatek (14) and Sabalenka (13). Rybakina has won five titles during that span, and three have come in the past year.

“They have been the most consistent the last few years,” Evert said this week. “They have shown their ability to handle pressure well in the big matches. They have different styles, temperaments, personalities which makes for great and interesting rivalries.”

Next up: Wimbledon

The trio brings varying degrees of momentum to the All England Club.

Swiatek is just weeks removed from winning her fourth major title, but grass remains her weakest surface. The 22-year-old played in her lone lead-in tournament at Bad Homburg this week and was pushed to three sets in her opening-round match against Tatjana Maria. She ultimately reached the semifinal before having to withdraw with a suspected case of food poisoning. In her three previous appearances at Wimbledon, her best result is the fourth round in 2021. Last year, her 37-match win streak came to an end at the tournament with a 6-4, 6-2 loss to Alize Cornet in the third round.

“I didn’t have as much belief as on other surfaces,” she said after the defeat in 2022. “Maybe this is also the reason. Maybe this is something I should change next year.”

But, if Swiatek were to surprise herself and find a way to win the title, she could break her current tie with Naomi Osaka and have the second-most major titles among active WTA players, trailing only Venus Williams.

Sabalenka reached the semifinals in her last appearance at the All England Club in 2021, but along with all other Russian and Belarusian players, Sabalenka was banned from playing last year. She lost in her Round of 16 match at Berlin last week — her only grass event prior to Wimbledon — to Veronika Kudermetova, 6-2, 7-6 (2).

Like Sabalenka, Rybakina was handed an early upset at Berlin and she fell in the same round in three sets to Donna Vekic. She was slated to play at Eastbourne this week, but withdrew ahead of her first-round match, citing the same viral illness that forced her to pull out of the French Open before her third-round match earlier this month. According to the BBC, Rybakina said her ongoing recovery had been “very tough” and wanted to give herself time to rest and prepare ahead of the year’s third major.

Last year, in just her second Wimbledon appearance, Rybakina shocked the field with her dominant run to the final and title victory over Ons Jabeur. Behind her powerful serve and fighting spirit, Rybakina rallied after losing the first set in the final for her first Grand Slam win. There were no ranking points awarded and she admitted she didn’t feel like a Grand Slam champion, but now, provided she’s fully healthy, she’ll have the chance to prove 2022 was no fluke.

“She’s got the perfect game for grass when everything is working,” Evert said.

Of the three, Swiatek has the most favorable draw. Sabalenka and Rybakina are in the same half, as are title contenders Jabeur, Kvitova, Jelena Ostapenko and Barbora Krejcikova. Rybakina could potentially face Ostapenko in the fourth round and Jabeur or Kvitova in the quarters. Sabalenka could take on Muchova in the fourth round and Krejcikova in the last eight.

Swiatek could face Bencic, who has not played a grass-court tournament this year, in the fourth round and Gauff in the quarterfinals. Pegula is the highest-seeded player she could play in the semis.

But even the Caesars Sportsbook oddsmakers see little difference among the three players, with Swiatek as the favorite, but all having 5-to-1 odds or better to win the Wimbledon title as of Friday. According to SportsOddsHistory.com, the last time three or more women had such odds entering the event was in 2008 for Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic.

While the recent illnesses from Swiatek and Rybakina show that anything can happen and nothing is guaranteed at Wimbledon, one thing looks clear: Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina will remain the WTA’s top contenders for the foreseeable future.

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Could there be a new Big Three emerging in tennis?