With the imminent overhaul of the WTA ranking system on the horizon, the battle for supremacy at the top of the game is heating up as we head into the clay court season.
In particular focus is the battle between Ash Barty and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka for the title of World No.1. However, after Osaka sensationally crashed out of the Miami Open overnight to Greece’s Maria Sakkari, the position will remain with Barty for the time being.
Osaka has missed a big opportunity to stake her claim as the best player in the world, needing to win in Miami to wrestle the top spot off her Aussie rival. The loss has brought her streak of 23 consecutive wins to an end, whilst also stripping tennis fans of the opportunity to witness a showdown between the pair for the title, should they have both advanced.
The task for Osaka to clinch the top spot will only become harder as the tour moves into the clay court season. She is sandwiched in the rankings by Simona Halep and Barty, two proven clay court players, each with a Roland Garros title under their belt.
Although there is a clear gap between the top three and the rest of the pack, the clay court season often unearths surprise performances from those that specialise on the surface.
Polish teenager Iga Swiatek came from the clouds to lift the silverware at Roland Garros just 7 months ago, and will be looking to capitalise on the adjusted rankings system that should see her climb into the top ten in the world. If you consider former French Open champions Garbine Muguruza and Serena Williams, it will only make it harder for those trying to stay at the top, especially Osaka.
The Japanese superstar is out to prove the doubters wrong, with a focus on improving her clay court game in the hopes of winning her first title on the surface. However, she would need to improve her winning percentage of a touch below 60% to even come close to her rivals in the top three on clay.
Having only lost four matches out of 24 on clay in the past two seasons, Simona Halep will be very hard to beat during the European summer, that is if she can overcome a right shoulder injury that forced her out of the Miami Open.
For right now, and certainly from an Australian perspective, everything rests in Ash Barty’s hands. The rest of the pack can only help but look on from the sidelines as she looks to defend her 2019 Miami Open crown and retain her place at the top of the sport.
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