Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka look the leading WTA contenders on clay ahead of the French Open, but who else makes the top five in the power rankings? Swiatek will be aiming to win a fourth Grand Slam title at the French Open after dominating on clay last year, but world No. 2 Sabalenka has been in strong form this season and won the Australian Open.
The 2023 clay season is here.
With the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami Open done and dusted, it’s time to move onto the next stage of the calendar, which features two WTA 1000 events in Madrid and Rome, before the French Open.
Last year the WTA clay season was dominated by world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who dropped just two sets as she won titles in Stuttgart, Rome and Paris.
Will Swiatek rule again on the dirt? Or will the challenging pack continue to close as they have done over the last few months? We power rank the top five women heading into the clay season.
1. Iga Swiatek
Swiatek enters the clay season with questions over her fitness, having pulled out of the Miami Open with a rib injury, and slight chinks seemingly showing in her armour, having lost four times this season.
She is set to return next week in Stuttgart, where she will be defending champion, having opted not to play for Poland in the Billie Jean King Cup.
If Swiatek is healthy she will clearly be the one to beat again.
Elena Rybakina might have had some joy against Swiatek this year with her power-hitting game but on clay it should be a different story. Swiatek’s movement on the surface is so good, her top-spin shots and kick serve are at their most effective, and she has the belief that she can beat anyone.
She has won two of the last three French Opens and should start as heavy favourite again in Paris.
2. Aryna Sabalenka
Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka has made big strides on clay over the last couple of years.
From a 15-13 record on clay before 2021, Sabalenka is now a champion in Madrid – beating Ashleigh Barty in the 2021 final – and a two-time runner-up in Stuttgart – losing to Swiatek both times. She still hasn’t cracked the French Open, losing in the third round for the last three years in a row, but seems far more comfortable on clay than earlier in her career.
“I’m not really scared of this surface any more,” she said in 2021. “Before I was too much thinking about the clay court, that this is surface not for me, that it’s really tough to play on this surface, it’s long rallies. I was really too much thinking about this. This year I relaxed and just play my game.”
Sabalenka should enter the clay season full of confidence after a sparkling start to the year and she could be Swiatek’s biggest rival as she looks to further close the gap on the world No. 1.
3. Coco Gauff
As talk continues over Coco Gauff’s forehand struggles, a switch to clay might benefit the 19-year-old.
Gauff has had some encouraging results on the surface, highlighted by her run to the French Open final last year, and her athleticism and defensive skills seem to suit the surface.
Speaking after losing early in Miami, Gauff said she was looking forward to playing on clay again.
Coco Gauff of the United States in action against Anastasia Potapova in her third-round match on Day 7 of the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on March 25, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Image credit: Getty Images
“I have a clearer picture of how I want to play on that surface. I definitely think physically usually those are the players that are doing well on clay, so I think that’s why it suits me a lot.”
It is on clay where Gauff might have the best chance to improve her one-sided record against top-10 players (7-18 win-loss) and it will be interesting to see if she can build on her French Open run to challenge for any of the big clay titles.
4. Ons Jabeur
Ons Jabeur would have been a slightly uncertain pick a week ago given her start to the year, but a title win on clay in Charleston could help her re-emerge as a top contender over the next two months.
Jabeur won more matches in Charleston (five) than she had in the previous three months (four), having undergone minor surgery following the Australian Open. She didn’t drop a set across the clay tournament and was impressive in the final in beating Belinda Bencic in straight sets.
Jabeur’s playing style is effective on the surface and she had excellent results last year, winning Madrid and making the finals in Rome and Charleston, before a surprise first-round loss at the French Open.
Jabeur said in Miami that she was viewing the tournament as a fresh start to her season, and clay might be another new chapter for the world No. 5.
5. Jessica Pegula
Paula Badosa and Barbora Krejcikova were both in the running for the fifth spot, while it will be interesting to see if Elena Rybakina can continue her strong start to the year on a surface where she hasn’t had much success in the past.
But Jessica Pegula, who has the most wins on the WTA Tour this year (22), gets the nod.
he world No. 3 looked improved on clay last year, making the Madrid final and then losing to Sabalenka and Swiatek in Rome and Paris respectively. In Charleston last week she took out Badosa in the quarters before losing a tight semi-final against Belinda Bencic.
Speaking about her clay game in Charleston, Pegula said: “I think you just have a little bit more time to be creative, and I’ve gotten a lot better at that throughout my career.
“Before, I would probably say I was better on hard court, but I think my game translates really well to clay. I’m getting better with my feel and my touch shots.”
It’s perhaps hard right now to see Pegula getting past Swiatek or Sabalenka to win a big title on clay this season but she could make some strong runs.