Rankings system in women's game needs a bit of tinkering
The Washington Times
February 28, 1996
This is going to sound cynical and a little cruel,
Actually, it sounds like a grumpy old man who always complains about how everything is worse now compared to Back In The Day, except when he complains about how much harder everyone had it Back In The Day. Of course, as a denizen of Blast From The Past, I know that feeling when the generation of players that you "knew" is replaced. But you have to accept it or move on to something else (or settle into a forum like BFTP
). And come on, if you're going to pine for something, at least pine for the Good Old Days of Navratilova and Evert Finals, not the Good Old Days of Shriver, Turnbull, and Hanika Rounds of 16.
but it's time for women's tennis to stop ranking its players on a curve and rank them on an absolute scale.
Any attempt to rank players on some "absolute scale" will end up being a subjective mess. Or demonstrate your lack of knowledge. Because choosing players like Shriver, Turnbull, and Hanika --particularly some of the years he chose as representative of their results and prowess-- is laughable.
The competition has become so thin that the women should be graded against past champions and former top 10 players
I don't think that would work as well as he thinks it would for the past champs and former Top-Tenners. Women's tennis has always been less competitive than it should be. If you look back at the years he's referencing, you'd see much mention of how nobody, with the exception of Mandlikova when the planets were aligned just right, could give Navratilova and Evert a match.
The sad state of affairs has been brewing since Monica Seles returned from a two-year absence. First, she wiped out everyone at last summer's Canadian Open, and then she raced through the U.S. Open to the final, where she was beaten by Steffi Graf in three sets.
The kicker came last week in Essen, Germany. There, Jennifer Capriati proved the lack of depth when she trounced No. 32 Kristie Boogert, beat No. 56 Barbara Schett and pushed No. 12 Jana Novotna to three sets before losing in the quarterfinals. Capriati did this after playing just one match in the past 2 1/2 years.
But not after only practicing
one match in the past 2 1/2 years! It's the same thing as Seles' return in 1995: If you've been practicing against guys for six months, your game can certainly be very finely honed.
Further evidence comes from the recent WTA Tour rankings, which find Iva Majoli ranked No. 4, Magdalena Maleeva ranked No. 5 and Chanda Rubin ranked No. 10. While I'm all for a changing of the guard, these players don't deserve the distinction of these lofty positions just yet.
So if half of the Top 10 and most of the Top 30 "deserves" to be empty in 1996, what about the days of the Evertilova hegemony? What was that supporting cast doing to earn their lofty positions?
A No. 4 player should be the caliber of Pam Shriver in 1985
Pammy's 1985 results:
Tournament / Result / Defeated By, If Applicable
AO (64 draw) / R16 / Lindqvist
Brisbane / F / Navratilova
Filderstadt / W
New Orleans/ F / Evert
Chicago / QF / K. Jordan
USO / QF / Graf
Mahwah / QF / Sabatini
Manhattan Beach / F / Kohde-Kilsch
Newport / F / Evert
Wimbledon / QF / Navratilova
Birmingham / W
FO / DNP singles, entered the doubles / NA
Melbourne (carpet) / W
Australian Indoor / W
Orlando / R16 (had a R32 bye) / K. Maleeva
Hilton Head / QF / Sabatini
Palm Beach / QF / Mandlikova
VSC / QF / Navratilova
Princeton / QF / Tanvier
18 singles tournaments entered, 10 times lost before the semifinals; didn't make a semi at the Slams or the Slims Championships; entirely dodged red clay in singles; losing mostly to other Ladies-In-Waiting and New Kids. And that is supposed to be the epitome of No. 4 in the world? To me, that's ridiculous.
or Hana Mandlikova in 1986;
He got ONE right! Yay!
a No. 5 in the league of Wendy Turnbull in 1984
Turnbull lost before the quarterfinals almost 50% of the time in 1984. Also totally dodged all clay.
or Sylvia Hanika in 1983,
Aside from some indoor finals early in the year, Hanika's 1983 was pretty mundane, with many pre-QF losses to middle-of-the-pack players and no tournament wins; the only topplayers she beat were Shriver and Turnbull. But at least she played on clay!
and a No. 10 as threatening to the top five as Kathy Jordan in 1984
Ooh, Katty Jordan's wins over Top-Fivers in 1984 were: Turnbull and Shriver (Are you seeing a pattern here?) at Wimbledon; and the real biggie of Evert at Eastbourne (with Navratilova looming in the final), during Chrissie's big existential crisis after Martina walloped her even on French Open clay. Bonus points for playing on clay, though!
or Barbara Potter in 1981.
In 1981, the only top player Potter beat was Turnbull (surprise!). In all other instances, as soon as she played anybody ranked in the Top 10 --or even somebody who would be ranked in the Top 10-- she lost, usually without much of a fight. BTW, she totally dodged clay, too.
By comparison, in men's tennis, the No. 4 player is Boris Becker, No. 5 is Michael Chang and No. 10 is Wayne Ferreira, all of whom can challenge Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
Only because Sampras didn't care about non-Slams, and Agassi at the time often didn't care about tennis at all. Note how he completely ignores the "Muster the Mercenary is No. 1" controversy. There were men's Top-Tenners who racked up the ranking points at weaker tournaments but often lost early at the tournaments where the world is watching and everybody comes to play; likewise there were men's Top-Tenners who would collect a nice appearance fee (and/or maybe a match fixing pay-off
) at a smaller tournament, tank the first round match against an unknown, and spend the rest of the week golfing. That is not "depth." That is a systemic attitude problem and an obviously flawed ranking scheme.
Hence, the need for a ranking system with historical perspective.
[SARCASM] Because, damn it, Navratilova should still be ranked No. 1! And No. 2! Maybe even No. 3, too! That pesky Graf is getting dangerously close to the weeks at No. 1 record! Martina's plot to thwart her with the Seles return ranking deal was itself thwarted, so this is the only option! [/SARCASM]
What he's doing is taking former Top-Tenners' best results from their entire careers --and probably even counting their doubles results toward their singles-- and pretending like it happened all in one year, and/or that they were sustaining their sporadic good showings. A true historical perspective would show that after the Top Two or Three, there was a bunch of players who were evenly matched amongst themelves but who also stood almost no chance against the Top Two or Three and were prone to being upset by someone lower down the rankings. Just like in 1996. Just like in 2016.
As for seedings in tournaments, only players who have proved themselves like Seles, Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario would be seeded.
Which would make for some very unfair possible first round matches, even for Seles, Graf, and ASV.
The new rankings system would work similar to the way a grumpy old English teacher might grade high school students. There wouldn't be a certain number of A's, B's and C's. If every student turned in a terrible writing assignment, then there would be only D's and F's. In other words, you competed against the teacher's standards, not the rest of the class.
How on earth can you compare tennis with a writing assignment? It's entirely possible for every student to turn in a wonderful paper and then everybody gets an A. But, in the spirit of Sham the racehorse, there are situations in sports when "great" is only second best. Yes, we the fans and the pundits sometimes acknowledge and remember a fantastic losing effort, but all too often we are too quick to dismiss the efforts of the non-winners. When combined with the Only-Slams-Count fever, it creates a lot of problems for tennis.
Make Graf, Seles, Conchita Martinez and Sanchez Vicario be ranked Nos. 1-4, Majoli be ranked, say No. 14, with Rubin approximately No. 22.
So Majoli, who had just beaten Seles and ASV, only deserves No. 14; and Rubin, who had just beaten ASV and had Seles on the ropes, only deserves No. 22. But Shriver, who didn't beat Evert until 1987 and had won only two sets during her 17 consecutive losses, totally deserves No. 4! Potter is a totally legitmate No. 10 in 1981 with a lone USO semi, some semis at small indoor tournaments, totally dodging clay, but Huber with finals at the tour championships and AO just doesn't derserve to be on the map.
John Korff, a tennis promoter since the early 1980s, agrees. He runs the controversial, star-packed Mahwah, N.J., exhibition, and he says that most of the women's players don't sell tickets.
Largely because the promoters don't know how to promote tennis as a sport, independent of "stars" and "personalities." And sometimes not even the "stars" and "personalities."
"If Iva Majoli were to play well for four more years that would be great, but you shouldn't get to be fifth in the world just because there are only four people better than you," Korff said.
If there are only four people IN THE WORLD better than you, I think that makes you fifth in the world.
What else should she do to earn fifth in the world? Majoli should not be forced to "wait her turn" for No. 4 just because she's relatively new to the scene and the fans and promoters haven't "noticed" her yet.
"That's how it is in the consumer's mind. Just because women's tennis had a player ranked fourth in the world doesn't mean they will line up to see her play. If a promoter wants to overpay in prize money because there are 10 players in the top 10 doesn't mean the consumer will follow along."
Promoting tennis as a sporting event should not be that hard, because tennis is a great sport. Unfortunately, the promoters are often just clueless and/or lazy, and potential consumers end up going elsewhere.
This is exactly what is happening. The Tier I women's events offer $926,250. For this, a promoter could get a player field of Conchita Martinez, Majoli, Anke Huber, Magdalena Maleeva, Kimiko Date, Mary Joe Fernandez and Rubin - and a lot of empty seats.
If you cater to people who are less interested watching the sport than they are in celebrity watching and arguing/complaining, you will get "fans" who are only interested in celebrity watching and arguing/complaining. Don't blame the players for the promoters' marketing mistakes. Target the right demographics and price your product correctly, and you can have 450,000 visitors in 2015. Just like the Tennis Garden.
However, for some intangible reason, some promoters are willing to keep raising their prize money. Charlie Pasarell, who owns a piece of the WTA Tour event in Indian Wells, Calif., is raising the event's purse to $1 million in 1997 from $300,000 this year.
It's called vision and believing in your product. Or maybe more correctly: Understanding your product.
Perhaps Pasarell is hoping for a virtual reality tour that would morph Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin and Mandlikova in their primes into tournaments against Seles and Graf.
The punditry would find something to gripe about then, too. And with major changes coming up in 1996 and 1997, this was not a good time for those who needed familiar faces. 1996 would be Graf's last "full" year on the tour. Seles' return would fizzle in 1996 and turn into fiasco in 1997. ASV would sink after one too many losing-side collisions. Martinez was already as good as useless. Sabatini would retire at the end of the year. And there would be a whole new crop of brash up-starts to take the place of the Not-So-New-Anymore New Kids.