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By Richard Pagliaro - Three different women held the No. 1 ranking during the 2001 season, but as far as former No. 1 Martina Navratilova is concerned only one player — Venus Williams — deserves the title as tennis' true No. 1

In a conference call with the media today to promote her exhibition match against Monica Seles scheduled for Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Navratilova said that despite her No. 3 ranking, Venus is clearly tennis' top player.

"I think there's no question that Venus Williams should be No. 1," Navratilova said. "The reason she was not No. 1 is they're taking the best (results) of 18 tournaments and I think that's too many. That's why you see people getting hurt — they're playing more than they want to play. How many tournaments does one need to play to be considered a bona fide contender for the No. 1 ranking. Is it 12? Is it 18? Is it 20? I don't know. But I don't think it's 18; I think it's less than that. So Venus was hurt by the way the ranking system works."

The owner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, Navratilova believes the current ranking system places too much emphasis on the quantity of tournaments played rather than the qualify of a player's performance at tournaments.

"If we had the same computer ranking system we had 10 years ago, Venus Williams would have been No. 1, Jennifer Capriati would have been No. 2, Lindsay Davenport would have been No. 3 and Martina Hingis would have been No. 4," Navratilova said. "You see that (the current rankings) and you know the ranking does not reflect the proper performance. Right now, we're weighing too much on quantity and not quality and that's the bottom line."

Only nine women — Chris Evert, Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Hingis, Davenport and Capriati — have held the WTA Tour's top spot since the computer rankings began. Navratilova suggests the premier position has lost a bit of its luster because the players believe the ranking system is an invalid and inaccurate measurement of player performance.

"Right now we know the computer system is not correct," Navratilova said. "That's why Lindsay was downplaying the fact that she ended up No. 1 — because she knows deep down she was not No. 1 for the year. They're revamping it, but I don't think they're going quite far enough in revamping it."

Part of the proposed plan to review the ranking system includes assigning more ranking points to Grand Slam events. This year, two players — Capriati and Williams — split the four Grand Slams with Capriati capturing the Australian and French Open titles and Williams winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Though they were the only Grand Slam champions both were surpassed in the year-end rankings by Davenport, who failed to reach a Grand Slam final.

Seles said players seem divided on the subject of adding more value to the Grand Slam events, but she believes Grand Slam results should matter more in the rankings and i's willing to reserve judgment until the new ranking system is in place for a year.

"In terms of (points) rankings of Grand Slams, I think it depends upon who you talk to," Seles said. "One person thinks that is not easy to play consistently good tennis from January 1st to December 31st and the other one is obviously winning the Grand Slams. I think the tour looked into that and made adjustments for 2002 and we'll see how it works. It's difficult because you see so many injuries this year on the tour. Half of the players have been hurt during parts of the year and that hurts the tour. You'd have to almost triple the (ranking) points (for Grand Slams) because already in Grand Slams I think the points are double. We'll see how it works in 2002 — giving the Grand Slams even more (ranking) points — which I think rightly they deserve."

While acknowledging the importance of the Grand Slams, Navratilova said that increasing the value of Grand Slams in the rankings could devalue Tier events and ultimately weaken the Tour.

"We need to remember it's the tour that supports the game — not the Grand Slams," Navratilova said. "So I wouldn't want to see the de-emphasizing of the points on the tour or emphasizing further the points of the Grand Slams."
 
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