February 18, 2013 by Parveer Mann
After winning two Grand Slams last summer, Serena Williams already felt like the number one player in the world to most of us. However, it was not until this week that the rankings caught up to popular opinion. With her performance in Doha, Serena replaces Victoria Azarenka as world number one and at age 31 is the oldest woman to do so. It just seemed like an adventure to get there.
The roller coaster rankings have underlined the women’s game for nearly half a decade. Since Justine Henin announced her sudden retirement in the spring of 2008, the WTA has seen constant upheaval at the top of the rankings. There have been 18 different reigns at number one spread amongst eight women. To contrast, the men’s game has seen three such players be number one in that time.
In the 37 year history of the WTA rankings, there have only been 21 women who have held the position but a surprising eight in the last five years alone.
I will attempt to rank these women on a scale of most deserving to least deserving of the title of world’s best at that time. This ranking is only to assess the players at the time just before and during their reign and not over their entire careers.
1. Serena Williams (No. 1: Sep. 2008; Total 66 weeks and counting) Serena is an easy choice as the most deserving number one when she reaches the peak. Her limited schedule means that it is the strong results in the grand slams that make up most of her ranking points. Both her runs have consisted of grand slam victories that have seen her impressive total rise to 15.
2. Kim Clijsters (No.1: Feb. 2011; Total 1 week) This may seem odd to put Kim so high with only one week at top in the last five years. However, when Kim returned after her first retirement and the birth of her daughter, she exceeded all expectations. She became the best hardcourt player on the tour for nearly two years and won three grand slams in a period of 16 months.
3. Victoria Azarenka (No.1: Jan. 2012; Total 51 weeks) Azarenka belongs this high on the list because her reign has been punctuated with big tournament wins. These include two Australian Opens in ’12 and ’13 to go with a runner up in the ’12 US Open. Despite her often criticized on-court tactics, Azarenka proved to be a worthy number one and a player we will see return to that position soon.
4. Maria Sharapova (No.1: Apr. 2008; Total 7 weeks) I would never rank Maria below Victoria Azarenka in an all-time greats list but it is justified here. She took over briefly after Henin retired and then in 2012 for four more weeks. However, her tenure came after many finals appearances and the completion of her Career Grand Slam in Paris. To me that cements her place ahead of others on this list.
5. Caroline Wozniacki (No.1: Oct. 2010; Total 67 weeks) She has held the number one spot for the longest period in the last five years including almost the entire 2011 season. Wozniacki was a counter-pucher who succeeded in many mid-tier tournaments but could not win the big one (losing in the US Open final to Kim Clijsters). However, her 12 victories over 2010 and 2011 put her near the middle of the pack of recent world number ones.
6. Ana Ivanovic (No.1: Jun. 2008; Total 12 weeks) The Serbian took over world number one after her breakthrough on the clay in Paris. She defeated Dinara Safina in straight sets and filled the void left by Henin. The rest of her year would be riddled with poor performances and injuries but her grand slam during the reign propels her ahead of Safina and Jankovic.
7. Jelena Jankovic (No. 1: Aug. 2008; Total 18 weeks) Taking over for one week in August , Jankovic was another player to ascend to number one without having won a grand slam. She was a US Open finalist and the winner of three consecutive fall events during her 17 week run in late 2008, A player who never had one defining aspect to her game continues to grind weekly on the WTA tour.
8. Dinara Safina (No.1: Apr. 2009; Total 26 weeks) The ‘never’ retired Safina took over in April 2009 without winning a grand slam. She was coming of a crushing loss in the Australian Open final to Serena and would be made aware of that numerous times. Safina had a strong Spring that included a title in Madrid and a finals at Roland Garros. It would be the early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open series that defined a lackluster tenure.
(Note: Weeks at No.1 inclusive of April 2008 to February 2013)
Do you agree? Would Safina be the most out of place number one in the past five years?