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See sample of Roger Federer's serve in ProStrokes 2.0 Slow-Motion in this week's edition.
Should Jelena Jankovic Rank No. 1 in the World?
“It is quality rather
than quantity that matters.” − Seneca
“Ends do not justify the means, they reflect
the means.” − Gandhi
How can Jelena Jankovic rank No. 1 in the world when in the past 52 weeks she hasn’t won a Grand Slam title, reached the final of only one major tournament (the U.S. Open), hasn’t beaten a top 5 player, and has a poor 8-13 record against top 10 opponents in 22 tournaments?
Enquiring fans want − and deserve − to know.
When Jankovic was informed she would ascend to No. 1 in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings on August 11, she candidly acknowledged she did not feel worthy of the honor. The smart Serb did not elaborate nor was she pressed to.
She lasted only one week at the top spot then. Jankovic regained the No. 1 ranking October 6 by winning the Stuttgart tournament the week before, while Serena Williams, a second round loser to China’s Li Na, should have remained number 1.
Click photo: Jelena Jankovic is clearly a very fine player but does she really deserve to be ranked No. 1 in the world?
It behooves all tournament players and serious tennis fans to be knowledgeable about the rankings because no player should ever win or lose in the computer rankings what she has not won or lost in tournament matches.
This is hardly the first time that a badly flawed ranking system has produced inaccurate and thus unfair pro tennis rankings. Throughout the 1990s the otherwise flourishing ATP Tour scandalously counted only a player’s best 14 tournaments during the previous 52 weeks for its official rankings. Since the top 100-ranked players averaged about 25 tournaments a year, an average of 11 of their tournaments or 44 percent, weren’t counted. Poof, they disappeared!
Many leading players, former stars, the media, tournament directors and the
International Tennis Federation denounced the infamous “Best 14” rule, which resulted in incorrect rankings. Martina Navratilova once called it “the worst rule in sports.” Jimmy Connors, the ultimate warrior, said: “Since when does walking out on a tennis court not mean anything? Some guys play 35 tournaments, so that allows them to go out and just swing freely and not really care if they have a bad week.”
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi suffered the most from the “Best 14” rule
because they competed in far fewer tournaments and had fewer early-round losses. Others, like Yevgeny Kafelnikov, however, exploited the bogus ranking system by playing 30 or more tournaments. Indeed, when trying to justify his undeserved No. 2 ranking during the 2000 Australian Open, the unapologetic but defensive Kafelnikov conceded: “The real Nos. 1 and 2 are Agassi and Sampras.... [But] I played a lot more tournaments than those guys.”
To find out what’s right and wrong with the WTA Tour rankings, let’s first review how its rankings are determined.
The most important WTA Tour rules for 2008 are as follows:
The ranking points earned by any player who competes in the Main Draw of a Grand Slam Tournament must count on a player’s ranking as one (1) of her best 17 Tournament results.
The ranking points earned by any player who competes in the Main Draw of the Mandatory Tier I Tournament must count on a player’s ranking as one (1) of her best 17 Tournament results.
The Olympics singles event awards WTA ranking points and will count if it is one (1) of her best 17 Tournament results.
The ranking points earned by any player who competes in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships counts on a player’s ranking if it is one (1) of her best 17 Tournament results.
The highest ranking points earned by any player in two or three (if the Olympics and/or season-ending Championships are included) or four other Tier II, Tier III and Tier IV Tournaments must count to complete the best 17 Tournament results.
Andre Agassi suffered from the “Best 14” rule
because he competed in fewer tournaments and had fewer early-round losses.
The 2008 Official Guide To Professional Tennis notes: “The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Rankings is the worldwide computer ranking for women’s professional tennis. It is a ranking system that reflects a player’s performance in Tournament play.”
While that sounds unassailable, the actual intent of both the WTA and ATP ranking systems is to induce players to compete in as many tournaments as they physically and mentally can, or globetrot until they drop. After all, without a sprinkling of top 10 players and plenty of top 50 players, the WTA Tour Tier II, III and IV tournaments will suffer or even go out of business. The only way the WTA can achieve that goal is to throw out players’ worst tournament results at all but three or four of these middle- and lower-echelon tournaments.
The WTA’s “Mandatory 13-Best 4” ranking system largely failed to persuade, induce or bribe marquee players to enter - or at least enter and then
not withdraw from (for sometimes dubious reasons) - 18, 19 or preferably (for the WTA) 20 or more tournaments. There are two reasons, both of which should have been foreseen. First, elite players contest far more Tour and Fed Cup matches and endure far more energy-draining media and sponsorship commitments than other players. In short, they are often worn out or injured after playing 17 or even fewer events. Second, the considerably lower amount of ranking points and prize money awarded at Tier II, III and IV tournaments is another major disincentive. The top players are responding rationally to the law of diminishing returns.
The four most coveted stars in the October 6 rankings tellingly played the fewest tournaments among top 20 players: No. 5 and French Open winner Ana Ivanovic (16 tournaments), No. 6 and Australian Open winner Maria Sharapova (13), who will miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury, No. 2 and U.S. Open winner Serena Williams (15), and No. 8 and Wimbledon winner Venus Williams (12).
Indeed, Serena averaged an astonishingly low 9.9 tournaments (excluding two Fed Cup appearances and an Olympics) per year from 2000 to 2007. Venus averaged only 10.1 tournaments (excluding six Fed Cup appearances and two Olympics) per year during the same period. And both sisters have rightly paid the price in the rankings for their relative inactivity.
Jankovic took advantage of the WTA ranking system by competing in 22 tournaments during the 52-week period ending October 5, 2008. Her five worst tournaments were simply not counted in the rankings. They included a first-round-loss in Bangkok (1 point) and a first-round loss in Zurich (1 point) in 2007; plus a second-round loss in Sydney (70 points), a second-round loss in Bangalore (70 points), and a quarterfinal loss at the Beijing Olympics (90 points) in 2008.
On the plus side of the ledger, Jankovic reached a Grand Slam final at Flushing Meadows and captured three tournaments, ’08 Rome, ’08 Beijing and ’08 Stuttgart, during the previous 52 weeks. However, she gained only one other final, at ’08 Miami, along with five semifinals, highlighted by the Australian Open and Roland Garros. On the debit side, she suffered plenty of early and bad losses.
All things considered, on August 11 the charming Serb had amassed a stunningly poor record for a No. 1-ranked player. Since then she has improved it by winning two tournaments and gaining the U.S. Open final, but her record is still a far cry from a legitimate No. 1.
For an analogy, imagine how invalid the NBA scoring title would be if it did not count Kobe Bryant’s 20 least-productive regular-season games, or how meaningless the Major League Baseball pennant race would be if the New York
Yankees’ 40 worst games were thrown out. These leagues and their fans would never accept such nonsense and injustice.
Twenty-six percent of Jankovic’s bona-fide tournament results did not count in the August 11, 2008 rankings, and 22.7 percent did not count in the October 6, 2008 rankings. Players ranked from No. 11 to No. 100 capitalized slightly more than Jankovic on the wrongheaded ranking system. They averaged playing 22.7 tournaments during the past 52 weeks, which meant 25.1 percent of their legitimate tournament results didn’t count in the rankings.
Under the current rules, both tours should be required to put a “truth in advertising” message on stadium scoreboards and TV screens that, when applicable, reads: “The match you’re watching may not count in the rankings for one or both players.”
Three other factors made Jankovic’s rise to No. 1 possible. When superstar Justine Henin announced her shocking retirement at age 25 on May 14, she led the rankings by a whooping 1,709 points over No. 2 Sharapova. Barring a complete collapse, Henin would have stayed No. 1 for at least several more months had she not retired. During the past five months, no dominant champion emerged to fill that huge void. Amazingly, six different players entered the U.S. Open with a chance to wind up No. 1 at the end of the tournament. Finally, as pointed out earlier, Venus and Serena hurt their causes considerably by playing so few tournaments. Not only did they fail to pick up valuable points, but their relative lack of match play made it more difficult for them to achieve peak form.
Lindsay Davenport wound up No. 1 in 2001 when Venus Williams captured Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, reached the Australian Open semis, and
won four other titles?
The year-ending No. 1 ranking matters far more than attaining No. 1 during various weeks, whether it be briefly or not, during the season. A baseball analogy is helpful here. If the Los Angeles Angels lead the American League West Division for the most weeks during the regular season but end the season in second place without even gaining the wild card, they would miss the playoffs.
So let’s consider the curious case of Lindsay Davenport. She was crowned No. 1 at the end of 2001, 2004 and 2005 without winning a Grand Slam title in any of those years. In 2001, playing 17 tournaments, Davenport failed to reach even a final at a major, while making the Australian and Wimbledon semis and U.S. quarters.
How then could Davenport wind up No. 1 in 2001 when Venus Williams captured Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, reached the Australian Open semis, and won four other titles?
This anomaly, or even seeming injustice, can be explained by Davenport’s extremely consistent high-quality results. In 17 tournaments, she won seven titles, was a finalist four times (including the season-ending Championships), a semifinalist thrice, and a quarterfinalist thrice. Davenport’s record far surpasses Jankovic’s record in 2007-08. That said, Venus hurt her cause tremendously by competing in only 12 tournaments, and she wound up ranked No. 3.
All things considered, the WTA and ATP Tours continue to produce flawed rankings. First, Grand Slam tournaments must count more heavily than they now do in determining the rankings. The winner of a Slam tourney now is awarded 1,000 points compared to 750 for the winner of the season-ending WTA Championships and 430 to 500 for the winner of Tier I events.
No one, except possibly WTA Tour leaders, believes the WTA Championships is anywhere near as important or prestigious as a Grand Slam title. Similarly, no player would trade a Wimbledon or French title for two Qatar Total Opens or two Sony Ericsson Opens, and probably not five or more.
Also, the Olympics should count significantly more. Believe it or not, the winner of the WTA Tour’s least important Tier I tournament received more ranking points (430) than the gold medallist at the Beijing Games (353). Would any player trade an Olympic gold medal for a title at Charleston, Moscow, Tokyo, Berlin, Rome or Montreal? Absolutely not! Indeed, after Russia’s Elena Dementieva won the singles gold medal at the Beijing Games, she said, “I cannot even compare a Grand Slam and the Olympic Games because it’s just so much bigger. This is a dream for every athlete, just to be here. But to be an Olympic champion, this is the top of the career.”
"Just because you’re No. 1 on the computer doesn’t mean you’re the best player in the world.” Pete Sampras
Second, all ranking systems should factor in the quality of a player’s wins, something both the WTA and ATP Tours used to do. For example, if Player A beats opponents ranked Nos. 2, 5, 8, 15, 25, and 35 to win a Tier I event, she should gain substantially more ranking points than if Player B beats opponents ranked Nos. 10, 30, 50, 70, 90 and 110 to win another Tier I event with equal ranking points.
Third, and most important, both tours must count results at all tournaments a player enters. The ranking system should also have a minimum divisor of 16 (the WTA will count a player’s best 16 tournament results in 2009) with a tournament point average to determine the rankings. If players choose to play more than 16 tournaments, their point totals would be divided by the actual number of tournaments played. That would produce accurate, fair and credible rankings as well as an easy-to-understand “race” throughout the year for the coveted No. 1 ranking as well as for berths in the season-ending WTA and ATP Championships.
Then both Tours would hear praise instead of controversy and condemnation, such as Sampras’ memorable 1999 blast: “Just because you’re No. 1 on the computer doesn’t mean you’re the best player in the world.”
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