Swiatek was upset by Czech teenager Linda Noskova in the third round of the 2024 Australian Open, blowing the draw wide open. But defeat could have a major consequence on Swiatek's ranking, especially with Sabalenka and Gauff breathing down on her neck.
At the start of the Australian Open, it was evidently clear that Swiatek would not relinquish the World No. 1 ranking regardless of her result during the fortnight. That is because she had built an enormous lead over second-placed Sabalenka after an unbeaten start to 2024.
Additionally, Swiatek benefited from a WTA rule change regarding points allocation from two tournaments last season. Swiatek's points tally almost touched the 10,000 mark. Even with an early defeat, she was perfectly safe in the short term because she only had fourth-round points to defend in Melbourne.
However, the bigger picture is emerging, and Swiatek might not remain No. 1 as she is set to defend the bulk of her points from last season between February and mid-June. That includes two titles (Stuttgart and Roland Garros) and two runner-up finishes (Dubai and Madrid).
Meanwhile, Gauff's best results in that time period from last year are a quarterfinal at Indian Wells and Roland Garros, and she appears to have the best chance of becoming World No. 1 for the first time in her young career. Winning the Australian Open would give her that spring in her step.
Sabalenka could significantly narrow the gap between herself and Swiatek if she retains her crown in Melbourne, but the Belarusian has another title defense in the first half of the season (Madrid) and two finalist points to defend, one being a WTA 1000 in Indian Wells.
That doesn't mean the 25-year-old is not in contention but it is the American with better odds to become No. 1. In fact, their potential showdown in the semifinal of the Australian Open could go a long way to determine the trajectory for both.