another version from Bob Larson
Time on Target
The WTA keeps a nice pretty list of #1 players and the time they spent at #1. There are some very impressive numbers there: Steffi Graf, 378 weeks, or more than seven years. Martina Navratilova, 331 weeks, or six and a half years. Chris Evert, 262 weeks, or five years. Martina Hingis, 209 weeks, or four years. Monica Seles, 178 weeks, or three and a half years.
And yet, Navratilova compiled those 331 weeks over a career that actually lasted 22 years (and, in fact, she'll be earning a singles ranking again this summer, so you could argue it's longer). For more than two-thirds of her career, she was not
You know us at Tennis News: We collect oddball statistics. So here is one we haven't seen elsewhere: Fraction of career at #1.
To begin with, let's summarize the total time spent at #1. This is through the end of Fed Cup, though it's quite sure that Justine Henin-Hardenne is going to stay #1 for quite a big longer. But we have to draw the line somewhere, and that was current at the time we wrote this. So: The numbers.
Which brings us to the question of how long each was an active player. This is more complicated than it sounds. We're going to do this by quarter-years (the best approximation we can really make), but even so, each player requires some explanation.
Steffi Graf turned pro at 13, playing her first Slams at the Australian and French Opens in 1983. (As an interesting footnote, it appears that Graf was the last active singles player to have played the Australian Open on grass.) She retired in August of 1999 shortly after her thirtieth birthday. We reckon her career as 16 and a half years, or 66 quarters.
Martina Navratilova actually turned pro before the WTA instituted rankings, making it a bit unfair to measure her by a rankings standard (though she certainly was not #1 at that early phase of her career). She played her first Slam at Roland Garros 1973, and her last -- so far -- at Wimbledon 1994 (and retired at the end of that year, even though she skipped the U. S. Open). In fairness, we should measure her career from the beginning of 1975, the earliest time at which results affected the official rankings (the first official WTA rankings were listed in November 1975). That's a full 20 years, or 80 quarters. We won't count her comeback, even though it appears to mean that Navratilova is going to achieve the astonishing feat of being ranked 30 years after she was first ranked.
Chris Evert, like Navratilova, was on the scene before the rankings were instituted; she in fact was the WTA's first-ever official #1. If we treat her as we treated Navratilova, she began her career at the beginning of 1975 and lasted until the end of 1989, 15 years or 60 quarters. (Though in fact she would have been #1 in 1974 as well, and began her career in late 1971. If we project back, it appears that Evert's number "should" have been about 320 weeks at #1 in a career of 74 quarters.)
Martina Hingis turned pro on October 14, 1994, two weeks after her fourteenth birthday. For commercial reasons, she didn't officially retire, but her last match was almost exactly eight years after she turned pro. She was thus an active player for 32 quarters. Of course, there is the complication that Hingis's career was cut short by injuries -- but so, arguably, was Graf's, and Austin's certainly was; we have to draw the line somewhere. In any case, Hingis's results followed the standard career path in miniature: apprenticeship, greatest success, decline. It's just that Hingis did it in half the time anyone else did.
Monica Seles turned pro in February 1989, and is still active, at least theoretically, though one begins to wonder if she'll be back. That's 15 years, or 60 quarters (and counting). But, of course, there is the stabbing. That makes things really
complicated, because Seles was co-ranked for more than a year after she came back. And she was also #1 for a while after she was no longer playing. There is no good way to account for that; anything we do has to take an asterisk. We're going to be somewhat arbitrary and subtract seven
quarters from her total. That gives her 53 "active" quarters.
Serena Williams turned pro in late 1997, and is still active with no interesting interruptions. Yes, she's been hurt a lot -- but so has everyone else. That's 27 quarters.
Lindsay Davenport turned pro just over eleven years ago, in February 1993, but had actually started playing Slams two years before that. We're going to assign her 50 quarters.
Tracy Austin played her first Slam in 1977, and her last -- prior to her abortive comeback in 1994 -- in 1983. Saying when she quit is complicated, but we're going to give her 26 quarters.
Jennifer Capriati turned pro just over 14 years ago. She of course missed several years, but that was based on her own behavior, not exterior factors. We give her 56 quarters.
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario turned pro in mid-1985, but didn't play her first Slam main draw until 1987; we're going to consider her career as having started at the beginning of 1986 and ended at the end of 2002. That's 64 quarters.
Venus Williams formally turned pro at the same time as Hingis, in October 1994, but didn't start playing regularly until 1997. She did, however, play enough events to maintain pro status. We're going to split the difference and start her career from the beginning of 1996, and she's still going. So that's 33 quarters.
Kim Clijsters was still playing junior events well into 1998, but also started playing as a pro toward the end of the year. We'll start her as a pro at the beginning of 1999, giving her a total of 21 quarters.
Justine Henin-Hardenne officially turned pro at the start of 1999, so she too has 21 quarters.
With those numbers, we can set out to calculate the percentage
of her career each player has spent at #1 (calculating each quarter as 13 weeks). Our initial guess, when we first did this list last year at this time, was that Graf would lead this list, with Hingis second. Wrong:
Player.........Wks #1..Qtrs as Pro....% as #1
* If we use the figure cited above for Evert, 320 weeks
and 74 quarters, Evert's percentage is almost identical: 33%
Hingis's numbers may be considered a fluke because she retired so young (though we note that she lost the #1 ranking a year before she quit, and in terms of matches played, she had had a fairly full career; the question none of us can answer -- though we know far too many who insist they know the answer -- is whether she really "had to" quit, in which case she certainly could be compared at least to Austin, whose active career was even shorter). But we also note that, if Henin-Hardenne is to equal even Graf's numbers, she has to be #1 for the next 167 weeks, or three years and two months. And that's if she quits then and doesn't add more weeks as non-#1. If Serena were to get back to #1 in the fall (her first chance), she'd need to be on top for about 193 weeks, or more than three and a half years.
It will be quite a feat if either one can pull it off. If either wants to equal Hingis, she'll need about another year after that. Which would mean Henin-Hardenne would be 26 (at least), or Serena 27 to 28, by the time she reaches that mark. At which point she might even be thinking about retiring herself....
An equivalent calculation for the men is far harder; not only have the men had far more #1 players (including a couple, Marat Safin and Juan Carlos Ferrero, the ATP doesn't even exactly concede were #1), and not only do they no longer regularly supply lists of weeks at #1 -- but they aren't as clear about when men turned pro and retired. We'd have to break the column up into two parts to give us time to research it, and there is no obvious way to do that.
And then, too, when did Pete Sampras retire? It affects his percentage. As it is, Sampras has been 286 weeks, or five and a half years, at #1. From the start of 1988, when he played his first ATP matches, to the 2003 U. S. Open was 59 quarters. So if that was the end of his career, he spent 37% of his career at #1. But if you count by when he retired,
it's 35%. A similar problem affects Patrick Rafter. And maybe Marcelo Rios. If you want something more accurate than that -- well, we'll figure out the answer once Rios figures out his plans.