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July 12 • 08:44
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The Odd Thing about Women's Rankings in the Williams-ova Era

October 27, 2011
The Odd Thing about Women's Rankings in the Williams Era

In the last 8 years, only two women have finished the year as #1 while having won a major: Serena Williams (in '09) and Henin (in '06 and '07).

Wozniacki lost to Zvonareva in 3 sets today but - thanks to Sharapova's loss to Na Li (7-5, 6-4) - she'll retain the year-end #1 ranking for the 2nd year in a row without winning a major. This is not so unusual in the recent past: Davenport did it in 2004 and 2005, and Jankovic did it in '08.

Before 2004, however, no man or woman EVER earned the #1 year-end without winning a major.

SO - WHAT CHANGED to allow it to happen 5 times in the last 8 years?

Theory 1: OVA Injections

Blame the Russians and Eastern Europeans... with or without steroids, the proliferation of Russian and then easter Euro women has created an unprecedented parity due to the lack of net skills or reliable service weapons to support their Maginot line/baseline combat style.

Theory 2: Burnt-out Cases

When before have we witnessed #1 players/champions retire early only to come back and reach #1 again; Henin did it (twice), Clijsters did it before she came back; and Davenport left the tour to have a child and came back to be #1 again. And then there are the Williams, who have prioritized winning majors over consistent play and rankings, partially to pursue other interests. In another era, they might have chosen to dominate the rankings for years at a stretch.

Theory 3: Injury time-outs

Whether real or feigned, injuries have caused retirements and withdrawals to come at a record pace, with more than a dozen retirements in each of the last two majors, and countless withdrawals by important players. The Williams and Clijsters (who started the year at #2 and won in Australia) have missed most of the season. Azarenka has retired or withdrawn from matches 5 times this year. Li played one match between The US Open and Istanbul, while Sharapova played only one tournie and retired in her 3rd match in the post-Open period.

And, SO WHAT, anyway?

Well, here's one 'what' to sew: What if the top 4 men decided to prolong their careers by playing less and tuning up for a major win rather than a year long effort, a la Joker this year and Rafa last year?

Would this season have been half as exciting without Joker's streak? Would he have been able to morph into such a dominant champion if he'd chosen a less full time pursuit of the top spot?

One sure bet: Rafa is not going to expect to return to the top without even more of a commitment to his competing. And if Joker slacks off, Rafa or Murray will be there to take over.

Day 2 Istanbul leaves Sharapova out

Today the only one of the 8 competitors to have previously won the tour championship is the first woman who can no longer control her own destiny in the event, #2 seed Maria Sharapova. For Maria to qualify for the semis:

- Azarenka has to lose in straight sets to Na Li by a score worse than her own 7-5, 6-4 loss; AND

- Na Li must win in straight sets over Stosur, probably by a score less close than her own 6-1, 7-5 loss to Stosur.

In that event, should Maria win her 3rd and final round robin match (vs. Azarenka) in straight sets, the former champ could then qualify if she had won more games than either of the other two players (Stosur and Azarenka) whose record in sets won and lost would match her own 2/4 record. Which is a lot of ifs...

In the other action today, Azarenka defeated Stosur 6-2, 6-2 (her 4th convincing straight set win over Sam this year, to no losses).

Thursday ORDER OF PLAY (Live on The TC at 10am)

1. Victoria Azarenka vs. Li Na

2. Caroline Wozniacki vs. Petra Kvitova

3. Vera Zvonareva vs. Agnieszka Radwanska

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