Iga Swiatek has put Ash Barty and her World No.1 ranking on notice after becoming the first Polish woman to win the Indian Wells title.
Swiatek will jump up to second in the WTA rankings after dispatching Maria Sakkari 6-4 6-1 in an error-filled 80-minute final in windy conditions on Sunday.
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While Barty skipped the event in the California desert and ruled herself out of the upcoming Miami Masters, Swiatek has separated herself from the chasing pack.
The 20-year-old leads the tour with 20 match wins in 2022 and has won back-to-back events, having secured the Qatar Open last month.
With Barty's return to the WTA tour still up in the air, she is now at huge risk of having her No.1 ranking taken.
"After playing so well in previous tournaments, I didn't know it was possible for me to play that well for that long," Swiatek said.
Swiatek has dropped a combined total of 16 games in her past five finals - all of which she has won.
Sunday's scoreline is the same as it was in her 2020 Roland Garros final, where she won her first career title and maiden major.
Her new ranking equals the highest ever by a Polish player - matching Agnieszka Radwanska who also got to No.2 in 2012.
Sakkari will improve to a new career-high ranking of World No.3 — matching Stefanos Tsitsipas's career-high as the highest-ranked Greek players in history.
Swiatek lost each of the first three times she played Sakkari - all last year - but turned that around when they met in the semi-finals in Doha.
Gusty wind affected serves and shots by both Swiatek and Sakkari on Sunday, with seven service breaks in the first set alone.
Swiatek broke twice in the second set for a 5-1 lead and she served out the match, winning on a forehand in the corner of the baseline.
"I'm really overwhelmed and honestly my mind is blown," Swiatek said.
"I wasn't expecting to be in that place, honestly, especially after playing so well in previous tournaments I didn't know it was possible for me to play that well that long."
Iga Swiatek is unstoppable at the moment. She has just beat Maria Sakkari to win Indian Wells, following up from her title in Doha last month.
If she wins in Miami, it will be the first time Ash Barty’s current reign as number one will be under serious threat. #IndianWells
— Matt Johns (@mattjohns01) March 20, 2022
Think we‘ve all reached a consensus on these @WTA Power Rankings post-@BNPPARIBASOPEN
1. Ashleigh Barty
2. Iga Swiatek
3. 10-42 different players depending on the week/surface
Fun reminder: At the start 2030, Iga will be just 28 years old. Better buckle those seatbelts folks… https://t.co/VU4mhD9Eqe
— Alex Gruskin (@AlGruskin) March 20, 2022
When I made my IW predictions, I didn't account for a player hitting dominant form on the WTA side. Watch out Barty, Swiatek is coming.
— Nick Carter (@nick_bcarter) March 20, 2022
Feels like a massive Barty-Świątek rivalry could be in the works in the next couple years. Barty still probably has a solid edge, but Świątek is improving so quickly, and it wasn’t like she wasn’t already spectacular.
— Owen (@tennisnation) March 20, 2022
Iga Swiatek = Indian Wells champion 🏆🏆
-Back to back WTA 1000 titles.
-5th title, 3rd WTA 1000 title.
-Improves her record to 20-3 this season.
-New world number 2.
As Ash Barty dominated Australia, this period of the season belongs to Iga ❤️🔥 pic.twitter.com/nKGtaRAOEg
— Marty (@Svitoflopina) March 20, 2022
Ash Barty set to return in Europe?
Barty won't make her return to tennis in Australia after all following the International Tennis Federation's decision to dump Russia from the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup.
Barty had targeted a comeback in front of her beloved Brisbane fans in Australia's scheduled Cup clash with Slovakia next month.
The World No.1 and three-time grand slam champion hasn't played in the competition since piloting Australia to the 2019 final, when then event was still known as the Fed Cup.
But Australia have advanced straight to the finals after the ITF's decision to ban reigning champions Russia from this year's event.
As the highest-ranked team among the 2021 losing semi-finalists, Australia will take Russia's place in the finals at a yet-to-be-determined venue in November.
Barty hasn't played since winning the Australian Open in January, saying her body wasn't sufficiently recovered from a gruelling summer campaign.
After opting out of Indian Wells this week plus her title defence in Miami, the 25-year-old is now likely make her return to the WTA Tour during the clay-court season in Europe.
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