Are the winds shifting in women’s tennis?

Is this happening? Is this the start of a new era in women’s tennis, or is it just a temporary alignment of the stars on the WTA Tour? We will obviously have to wait and see if this development has any traction, but there are certainly signs that after several years of relative parity, we might actually be getting a true top tier — with several players establishing themselves above the rest of the pack — in women’s tennis.

The Indian Wells women’s semifinals are set, and three of the top four players here look a lot like the top players at the Australian Open. Iga Swiatek meets Elena Rybakina again, and Australian Open champion plays the one outlier, Maria Sakkari, in the other semifinal.

Swiatek’s loss to Rybakina made us all wonder if Swiatek would significantly regress this year. Her strong performances in the months since that loss in Melbourne have quickly answered that question. Rybakina’s win over Swiatek in Australia, which led to a run to the final Down Under, showed that the 2022 Wimbledon champion is clearly building on her victory instead of fading away. Rybakina is developing herself into an elite, year-round player who breathes confidence and finally knows what she can do after needing a few years to put the pieces together.

Sabalenka steadily built toward a semifinal and final-level standard at the bigger tournaments. She made a Wimbledon semifinal. She made a U.S. Open semifinal. She pushed the bar higher and finally reached her ultimate goal of a major championship this past January. No longer laboring under the burden of never having won a major tournament, Sabalenka is taking care of business and will be expected to handle Sakkari en route to the final, where Swiatek or Rybakina would be waiting.

Indian Wells has not given us a typical WTA pattern from the past six years, otherwise known as the post-Serena-motherhood era. As soon as Serena became a mom, her dominance at the top of the sport gave way to a world of parity in which one big tournament was followed by a tournament with a largely different group of contenders. WTA tennis from 2017-2022 was defined by near-total unpredictability (Swiatek at Roland Garros last year being one notable exception). If eight players made the quarterfinals at one major, few — if any — would show up in the quarters or semis of the next one.

With this semifinal setup in Indian Wells, it’s clear that what happened in Melbourne has carried over to the Southern California desert. This is what consolidation of power looks like.

Will it hold up? We will find out in Miami and then in Madrid, Rome, and Paris.

We will see if a whole top tier — not just a top player such as Swiatek or Ash Barty — is emerging on the WTA Tour.

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