The player who ascended to world No.1 after Ash Barty’s shock retirement is being celebrated for producing one of the greatest seasons on the women’s tour.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek climbed to No.2 after winning the Indian Wells Masters in March – which Barty skipped – then succeeded the Australian once she called it quits for the second time at age 25.

Barty, whose final on-court act was ending the host nation’s Australian Open singles title drought, elected to be removed from the WTA rankings immediately rather than wait for her points to drop off.

Swiatek went on a 37-match winning streak mid-year – the longest this century – and among her tour-leading eight titles were her second and third grand slam championships at the French and US Opens.

A 68-9 record also helped her finish with the second-most year-end ranking points (11,085), behind only American legend Serena Williams’ 2013 total of 13,260.

The 21-year-old will extraordinarily end the season with more than double as many ranking points as second-ranked Ons Jabeur, of Tunisia.

Part of the fascination in Swiatek’s post-Barty rise is she was unable to win a set off the Queensland star in either of their meetings, at last year’s Madrid Masters or the Adelaide International this past January.

Barty retired on an 11-match winning run and as the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and undisputed best player in the women’s game.

She finished the previous three seasons as the WTA No.1 and had held the top spot for 114 consecutive weeks at the time of her retirement.

That is the tour’s fourth-longest streak, behind all-time greats Steffi Graf (186 weeks), Serena Williams (186) and Martina Navratilova (156).

But Barty was never obsessed, like some others, with chasing down the sport’s ghosts.

Her 2022 Australian Open triumph completed her career wishlist after her Wimbledon breakthrough the previous year, to go with her 2019 French Open title.

“I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon … there was a little part of me that just wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled,” Barty said after retiring.

“And then came the challenge of the Australian Open.

“I think that, for me, just feels like the most perfect way – my perfect way – to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been.”

What will never be known is if Barty’s presence would have prevented Swiatek’s surge, or if the Polish superstar would have been the one to finally snatch the No.1 spot off her Australian rival.

Dealing in hypotheticals is fraught with danger, so Swiatek – whose season ended in a WTA Finals semi-final defeat to Aryna Sabalenka, who also gave Barty trouble at times – can instead savour what actually happened.

“It’s just crazy,” Swiatek said.

“It’s that kind of thing that is gonna stay with you for the rest of your career, and it’s something to be proud of. Even though I lost today; I’m going to try to enjoy everything.”

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