Torn Ligaments End Hingis's Year
When Martina Hingis fell on her back at Filderstadt, her season fell flat on its face.
For the first time ever in a WTA match, Hingis retired, trailing 2-1. (She also retired from a match in the Grand Slam Cup once, but that isn't a WTA tournament.) On Saturday, it was announced that she had a torn right ankle ligament and damage to another ligament. Surgery was scheduled for Sunday or Monday. It will end her 2001 season; the minimum recovery time is six weeks. This makes it nearly certain that she will end the year ranked #4 -- her worst showing since 1996. She cannot end 2001 ranked higher than #3, her current standing in the Championship Race.
This produces several interesting footnotes. First, if the WTA had not shifted to Best 17 this year, to help injured players, Hingis would still be #1, though only for one more week. (So much for another WTA bright idea.) Second, this is the fourth time in recent years that an injury has led to a change in the #1 ranking. When Steffi Graf lost the ranking in 1997, she was injured. When Hingis lost the #1 ranking for the first time, in 1998 to Davenport at Filderstadt, she was injured (she played out her match against Dominique Van Roost, which she could not do this year, but had to withdraw from Zurich the next week). In early 2000, Davenport took the #1 ranking from Hingis at the Ericsson, but was injured in the process, and Hingis got the ranking back partly because she was playing and Davenport wasn't. (Hingis would earn the top spot more legitimately that fall, when she had an all-time great indoor season, but almost certainly would not have taken the #1 ranking so early had Davenport not been injured.) And at Filderstadt, Hingis had an outside chance to hold the ranking, at least for another week or two -- but was injured. And she and Capriati were close, in part, because Hingis was injured at the time of the Canadian Open, and could not play.
We can also throw in Monica Seles's loss of the top spot to Steffi Graf after her stabbing, and also the limited schedule Graf played in 1994 and 1995 when she lost the #1 rank to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. It is clear that, in recent years, the inability to play (usually due to injury) is the dominant cause of changes in the top spot. The #1 player is not the most effective player (right now, that's surely Venus Williams), but the player who can actually make it onto the court.
Hingis's injury costs her more than just the #1 singles ranking. It will also cost her the chance to play Munich in both singles and doubles. That ends her chances of ending the year in the doubles Top Ten.
We note another point: With Hingis out, the top three players at year-end will be Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams, and Lindsay Davenport -- all Americans who rely on power rather than finesse. There are differences between their games (Capriati relies more on speed, Davenport on pure power; Davenport doesn't like to come to net but is much more effective there than the others) -- but the similarities are much stronger. How will this affect the popularity of women's tennis in Europe, where it is, after all, much more popular than in the United States? Europe supplies the bulk of the Tour's prize money (two Slams, Munich, four Tier I events, and seven Tier II events, compared to one Slam, three Tier I events, and six Tier II events in the U.S.; Europe also has a much higher proportion of the smaller events).