The phrase it is not how you start that's important, but how you finish, couldn't be more apt to Aryna Sabalenka, who relinquished the year-end No. 1 in the final week of the season.
Yes, Aryna Sabalenka led Iga Swiatek the entire time since the first ball was struck in the opening week in Adelaide in January to the first week of November. A total of 43 weeks. On any other year, it would have been adequate to seal the year-end No. 1 ranking.
But not in 2023, and certainly not when the challenger is Iga Swiatek. The WTA live race serves as a barometer for the year-end No. 1 ranking. This year's race contained 44 weeks, and Sabalenka dropped her ball in the week that mattered.
Iga Swiatek, with a spring in her step, sprinted to the finish line to snatch the No. 1 ranking that she lost to the Belarusian after the US Open. The Polish star led for just one week of the season, and it was the decisive week, which settled the year-end No. 1 battle that went to the final match of the WTA season.
Sabalenka knew anything less than a runner-up finish at the WTA Finals would conspire to end her first stint as WTA No. 1. But after finishing second in the group stage in Cancun, the Belarusian drew Swiatek in the semifinal stage and lost that bout in straight sets. Swiatek completed a demolition job in the final to reclaim the No. 1 ranking.
Had Sabalenka avoided that matchup or to put it bluntly won the semifinal, it would have been impossible to lose top spot. The 25-year-old was ranked No. 1 in the race for 41 weeks, the most of any player this season.
Switzerland's Belinda Bencic was the only other player who briefly held that mantle for two weeks in early February, after winning two titles in the opening two months of the season. But it was Swiatek who had the last laugh in a crazy finish to the season.