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Computers spit out a new No. 1

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By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com


She captured a tournament in Paris when the other finalist had to withdraw because of a lingering injury, whereupon the winner hinted strongly that she'll be scaling back her appearances later this year to go back to school. Two weeks later, after a tournament win in Belgium, she went to the United Arab Emirates, reached the semifinals of a tournament there, won the first set of that semi in 21 minutes, and then promptly lost the next two sets to be eliminated by a woman who'd never beaten her as a professional.


Her knee wrapped, soon-to-be No. 1 Venus Williams went down in Dubai.
Ladies and gentlemen, your new world No. 1 ranked women's tennis player.

And you know what? It isn't Venus Williams' fault in the slightest. It's nobody's fault, when you get right down to it. Why blame a person when you can dump the whole thing on a computer program?

The latest WTA rankings will come out Monday, and for the fourth time in four months there will be a new No. 1. And while there isn't anything inherently wrong with a constant changing of the guard up top -- heck, we do it all the time in college football -- there is something increasingly plastic about that designation.

Or, as Williams so tellingly put it, "Being No. 1 was firstly my parents' dream."

Not that Williams isn't honored. She says she is, and we take her at her word. Still, you're left with this: This month, it's Venus's turn.

After that? Stand in line.

During this fortnight of pissing and moaning about subjective judging, nationalistic bias, the efficacy of Sarah Hughes's triple toe loops and various and sundry my-athlete-got-jobbed puffery, here's a lonely hand at the back of the room raised in protest of a system ostensibly designed to provide objective analysis. Instead, it has become a working symbol of the potential meaninglessness of being called No. 1.

Williams climbs to the top in the current rankings not necessarily because she's ripping through everybody in sight, but through the usual WTA computer labyrinthe. She played in Dubai this week, while the current No. 1, Jennifer Capriati, did not elect to defend the 141 computer points she was awarded for winning the Oklahoma City tournament a year ago.

Capriati thus loses points from her ranking, meaning that Williams would have taken over as No. 1 even if she crapped out in the first round in Dubai and ... wait. Did we just say a year ago?

We did indeed. Under the WTA system, the overall rankings are based upon points compiled over a 52-week period. The format allows each player to include only her 17 best tournament finishes over that span, and lets her thus discard the results of any week in which she smelled up the joint.

Think of Miami, Nebraska, Oregon and the rest throwing out a gridiron defeat here and there to improve their places in the Top 25, and you're getting warm.

Venus Williams, on the other hand, is properly cool to the whole scene. Despite being generally great over the last couple of years, she had never before risen to the top of the WTA system because of her penchant for taking time off during the season. And she likely will do so again this year; after winning the Paris tournament when Jelena Dokic injury-defaulted out of the final, Williams said she'd like to take the fall months off to return to her parallel universe as a fashion design student in Florida.

Not only that, but Williams added, "I am somebody who gets bored very easily, and if I dedicated all my time to tennis, it would end up boring me."

Spoken like a professional who recognizes that the chase for No. 1 under a system like the WTA's isn't quite the same as hoisting the Lombardi Trophy -- or perhaps even of being Tiger Woods, where the golf people add up the money at the end of the year and declare who's on top.

No, in the world of women's tennis it is a month-to-month proposition, the notion of who's No. 1 -- from Hingis to Davenport to Capriati to Venus Williams in a four-month stretch, now. It isn't as though Williams isn't deserving of the title; she has won three WTA tournaments already this year and 23 in her career. Her unhappy loss to Sandrine Testud in the semis at Dubai might've owed to a knee injury as much as anything.

But you can't blame Venus for not jumping up on the medal stand upon being informed of her impending honor. She recognizes the thing for what it represents: Her position as the player with the most points based on her best 17 tournaments over the past year. And just as soon as she goes on to her life at the Florida Art Institute, it'll be somebody else's turn to claim she's No. 1. We'll probably have a hard time swallowing that one, too.

Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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Well this guy isn't afraid to say that the WTA ranking system sucks ...... but he could have added a little bit more congratulations towards Venus!!!!
 

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Kudos to Venus!! The new number 1 :D :bounce:
 

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LMAO, I love how they're critiquing the computer system and yet they can't manage to proof read their paper...Jenn won Oklahoma last year? Uh....NO, that would be Miss Seles! :D
 

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GOD, I am so fucking sick of these IDIOTS ripping a ranking system they don't understand and can provide no alternative for.
 

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Why does everyone (mostly the media and sports analysts) think Venus is not happy playing tennis or becoming no. 1? It is so perplexing to them. She just doesn't want to do it relentlessly
 

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Ever see CBSSportslines Power Rankings, Poe? 12 days was too long for them. Here is their alternative to that silly computer:

Feb. 18, 2002

Sportsline.com's Power Rankings feature 10 players based on the previous week's performance. It is not an official ranking based on points but takes into account the strength of schedule and the quality of play of each player during that period.


Rank Player Previous
1 Venus Williams 1
America's Williams wins the Proximus Diamond tournament in Antwerp, Belgium one week after taking the Open Gaz de France in Paris. She obviously remains on top of the Power Rankings.
2 Monica Seles 4
America's Seles wins her first title of the year in Doha, Qatar, and regains her second place in the rankings.
3 Justine Henin 10
Belgium's Henin reaches the final in Amtwerp where she loses to Williams again. That is still her best result of the season.
4 Tamarine Tanasugarn -
Thailand's Tanasugarn reaches the final of the Total Fina Elf Open in Doha but loses to Monica Seles. Another good performance for Tanasugarn who remains a tough oponent week in and week out.
5 Amelie Mauresmo 2
France's Mauresmo reaches the semis in Antwerp where she is once again stopped by Venus Williams. She drops three spots in the rankings.
6 Janette Husarova -
Slovakia's Husarova loses to Tanasugarn in the semis of the Doha Open. She upsets France's Sandrine Testud in the first round and should be one of the best players in the world soon.
7 Patty Schnyder -
Switzerland's Schnyder loses to Henin in the semis of the Antwerp Open. A pretty good performance overall for the young Swiss player.
8 Alicia Molik -
Australia's Molik enters the rankings for the first time of the year thanks to her good performance in Doha. The young Australian loses to Seles, but manages to take the second set.
9 Martina Hingis 5
Another week off for Switzerland's Hingis who keeps going down in the rankings.
10 Jennifer Capriati 6
America's Capriati hasn't played since her success in Melbourne. She is now one spot away from leaving the rankings.

Dropped out: Jelena Dokic, Sylvia Farina Elia, Elena Dementieva, Francesca Schiavone.
 

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This author does not seem to understand the rankings.

Perhaps ESPN had better start looking for a new regular contributor.
 
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