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Should Caroline Wozniacki 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 could Caroline Wozniacki rank No. 1 in the WTA Tour year-end rankings after stunningly mediocre results at seven of the eight biggest tournaments?
Enquiring fans want—and deserve—to know.
The charming 21-year-old Dane garnered more publicity for her amusing press conferences and dating handsome golf champion Rory McIlroy than her on-court performances in 2011. At the majors, Wozniacki reached only the Australian Open semifinals, the French Open third round, the Wimbledon fourth round, and the US Open semifinals. Equally unimpressive, she also failed to advance past the round-robin stage at the WTA Championships, the fourth round at Miami, and the semifinals at Rome. Her best result was winning Indian Wells.
It speaks volumes that in the WTA Tour’s press release announcing that Wozniacki received the No. 1 ranking for 2011, her accomplishments were listed not in the first paragraph or the second, but in the last paragraph. In essence, there was very little to brag about for a No. 1 player.
For the second straight year, Caroline Wozniacki was the WTA's No. 1-ranked player; however, Petra Kvitova (left) was voted WTA "Player of the Year."
Wozniacki gained the coveted No. 1 ranking for the second straight year mainly because of the highly flawed WTA ranking system. Since this controversial system counts a maximum of 16 tournaments, six of Caroline’s 22 tournaments did not count in the rankings. All tournaments and all tournament matches must count to ensure accurate and thus fair rankings.
Rankings are exceedingly important because they are used to determine the seedings and the direct entries into tournament main draws; because the updated rankings appear in newspapers and on television and websites every week (every two weeks after major events); and because they are used every day by the print, electronic, and television media to designate the level of players they are writing or talking about.
Of course, rankings also determine the No. 1 player. Therefore, it is quite peculiar, and even ironic, that the media should have to vote for the WTA “Player of the Year” in November. Wozniacki (wrongly) ranked No. 1 in the season-ending 2010 rankings, but Kim Clijsters was (rightly) voted WTA “Player of the Year.” This year No. 2-ranked Petra Kvitova deservedly received the WTA “Player of the Year” award. This embarrassing contradiction has occurred seven times this century. It should never happen! If the ranking system is accurate and thus fair, then the No.1-ranked player should automatically, and by definition, be the WTA “Player of the Year.”
Like Wozniacki, Kvitova won six tournaments, but the parity ends there. The 21-year-old Czech captured Wimbledon, the most prestigious tournament, defeating No. 5 Victoria Azarenka in the semis and No. 6 Maria Sharapova in the final. Kvitova also won the WTA Championships, the fifth most important tournament, with victories over No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 1 Wozniacki, No. 6 Vera Zvonareva, No. 7 Samantha Stosur, and No. 4 Azarenka. Against top 5 players throughout the year, Kvitova’s 7-2 record was vastly superior to Wozniacki’s abysmal 1-2 record.
Kim Clijsters was (rightly) voted WTA “Player of the Year" in 2010, despite finishing behind Wozniacki in the rankings.
Nonetheless, Wozniacki finished the season with a Tour-leading 7,485 ranking points, slightly better than Kvitova’s 7,370 total. Wozniacki maintained that edge for two reasons. First, Kvitova played 19 tournaments and therefore could throw out the poor results of only three tournaments, compared to six tournaments for Wozniacki. (It's also relevant that Wozniacki suffered 12 losses to opponents ranked outside the top 20.) Second, unlike the ATP Tour which counts Davis Cup results, the WTA Tour wrongly does not count Fed Cup results. So Kvitova’s spectacular 6-0 record that led her country to the Fed Cup title went for naught in the rankings. Wozniacki did not compete in the Fed Cup at all.
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 they are determined.
The most important WTA Tour rules for 2011 are as follows:
- The WTA rankings are based on a 52-week, cumulative system. A player’s ranking is determined by her results at a maximum of 16 tournaments for singles.
- The tournaments that count towards a player’s ranking are those that yield the highest ranking points during the rolling 52-week period.
- They must include points from the Grand Slam events, Premier Mandatory tournaments and the WTA Championships (if the player qualifies as a direct entry).
- For top 20 players, their best two results at Premier 5 tournaments (Doha, Rome, Cincinnati, Montreal/Toronto and Tokyo) will also count.
- Players are awarded ranking points for the highest round they reach.
- The Olympics singles event awards WTA ranking points and will count if it is one (1) of a player’s best 16 Tournament results.
The WTA 2011 Official Rulebook notes: “The worldwide computer ranking for women’s Professional Tennis [‘WTA Rankings’] reflect a player’s performance in tournament play, and determine player acceptances and seeding for all Tournaments.”
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, in some cases, globetrot until they drop. After all, without a sprinkling of top 10 players and plenty of top 50 players, the WTA Tour’s non-mandatory tournaments will suffer or even go out of business. The only way the WTA apparently believes it can achieve that high-participation goal is to throw out players’ worst tournament results at all but four or five of these middle- and lower-echelon tournaments.
The WTA’s current “Mandatory 11-Best 5” ranking system largely failed to persuade, induce or bribe marquee players to enter—or at least enter and then not withdraw (for sometimes dubious reasons) from—as many tournaments as the WTA would have liked. The top 5 players averaged 19 tournaments in 2011.
There are two reasons for that, both of which should have been foreseen. First, elite players typically contest far more Tour matches per tournament 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 16 or even fewer events.
Second, the considerably lower amount of ranking points and prize money awarded at lower-level tournaments is another major disincentive. The top players, with a few exceptions such as Wozniacki, are responding rationally to the law of diminishing returns.
Serena and Venus Williams, who both have been occasionally sidelined by injuries, illnesses and family crises, have seldom shown a desire to play even a modest amount of tournaments, regardless of any ranking system inducements. Indeed, Serena Williams averaged an astonishingly low 11.3 events (excluding two Fed Cup appearances and an Olympics) per year during 2000 to 2010. Venus averaged only 11.5 tournaments (excluding six Fed Cup appearances and two Olympics) per year during the same period.
Both sisters paid the price in the rankings by playing so few tournaments. Not only did they fail to pick up valuable points, but their relative lack of match play sometimes made it more difficult for them to achieve peak form.
Much like Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic took advantage of the WTA ranking system—which both players had every right to do—by competing in 22 tournaments to help her become No. 1 in the season-ending 2008 rankings. Jankovic performed better than Wozniacki at the majors, making the US Open final, the Australian and French semis and the Wimbledon fourth round, but she won two fewer tournaments.
When Jankovic was informed she would ascend to No. 1 in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings on August 11, 2008, she candidly acknowledged she did not feel worthy.
While their records were similarly undistinguished, their attitudes were polar opposites. When Jankovic was informed she would ascend to No. 1 in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings on August 11, 2008, she candidly acknowledged she did not feel worthy of the honor. However, Wozniacki has always insisted her overall consistency makes her deserve the top spot.
Jankovic’s five worst tournaments—and she suffered plenty of early and bad losses—were simply not counted in the rankings. That’s 22.7 percent. This year six of Wozniacki’s bona-fide tournaments—27.3 percent—simply vanished, as if they were never played.
For an analogy, imagine how invalid the NBA scoring title would be if it did not count LeBron James’ 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 outrageous nonsense and injustice.
Under the current rules, the WTA and ATP 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.”
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.
Serena and Venus have consistently hurt their chances of finishing No. 1 by playing so few tournaments, averaging a bit more than 11 a year.
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 US Open titles, reached the Australian Open semis, and won four other titles?
This anomaly, or seeming injustice, can be explained by Davenport’s extremely consistent high-quality results. In 17 tournaments, she won seven titles and was a finalist four times (including the WTA Championships), a semifinalist thrice, and a quarterfinalist thrice. Davenport’s record far surpasses Jankovic’s record in 2007-’08 and Wozniacki’s record in 2010-’11. That said, Venus hurt her cause tremendously by competing in only 12 tournaments, and she wound up ranked No. 3.
Here are five ways the WTA Tour can make its rankings accurate, fair and credible.
First, Grand Slam tournaments should count more heavily than they presently do in determining the rankings. The winner of a Slam tourney now is awarded 2,000 points compared to 1,500 for the winner of the season-ending WTA Championships and 1,000 for the winner of Premier Mandatory tournaments.
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 Sony Ericsson Opens (Miami) or two Madrid Opens, and probably not even five or more.
“Just because you’re No. 1 on the computer doesn’t mean you’re the best player in the world.” — Pete Sampras
Second, the Olympics should count significantly more. Believe it or not, the winner of the WTA Tour’s Premier 5 tournaments receives far more ranking points (900) than will the gold medallist at the 2012 London Games (685). Would any player trade an Olympic gold medal for a Premier 5 title at Dubai, Rome, Cincinnati, Toronto/Montreal or Tokyo? 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.”
Third, all ranking systems should factor in the quality of a player’s wins, something 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 Premier Mandatory tournament, she should gain more ranking points than if Player B beats opponents ranked Nos. 10, 30, 50, 70, 90 and 110 to win another Premier Mandatory event with equal ranking points.
Fourth, results in the Fed Cup, the world’s leading annual competition in a women’s individual sport, must count, just as the ATP Tour rightly includes the Davis Cup in its rankings.
Fifth, 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 with a tournament point average to determine the rankings. Had this “quality-based” ranking formula been used this year, Kvitova would have ranked No. 1 with a 387.9 point average, easily surpassing Wozniacki’s 340.2 average.
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 Championships.
Then the WTA Tour 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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Doug King builds upon the fantastic video Christophe Delavaut presented a few weeks ago that showed how Oscar Borras helped then world number 1, Rafael Nadal, increase his serve by 19MPH in 2010. Doug applies these same teaching techniques to both the serve and the forehand, breaking down the components and then reassembling them. This same technique may just improve your game.
How Will Roger Federer Fare In 2012?
In the past 20 years only legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have captured a Grand Slam singles title at the ancient tennis age of 30 or more. During first 24 years of Open Tennis, 15 men equally long in the tooth achieved the feat. As athletes have become bigger, stronger and faster, defying Father Time has become harder than ever in a pro sport that requires and rewards supreme athleticism. Paul Fein feels if anyone can overcome the odds, it’s Roger Federer. Here's why.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Svetlana Kuznetsova, Forehand
With two major championships under her belt, Svetlana Kuznetsova has been ranked as high as #2 in the WTA field (2007), yet for the past two years, she has struggled to remain in the top twenty. Athletic (at around 5’9” and 161 lbs), Svetlana is a strong singles player with power on both wings and a solid service motion. Kuznetsova plays an all-around game, she can volley with the best players, attack off her serve and groundstrokes, and cover the court as well as any player on tour. 2012 could be a “come-back” year for this talented Russian.
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