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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Number One the Hard Way
Kim Clijsters has a great record this year -- except when it's really big. Think the Australian Open against Serena Williams. Think Roland Garros against Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Or think of all the times she had the #1 ranking in her grip. Wimbledon. San Diego. Los Angeles, where she zipped out to a 6-1 lead in the first and then lost the second set before finally pulling things together.

It's been ugly. Has it been atypical?

We thought we'd look at the women and the ways they took to the #1 ranking. We're going to start at the beginning of 1996, and look at every first-time #1 since that time. Singles and doubles, just for completeness. Starting with singles, naturally. Note that we're only going to examine the first time the player becomes #1. Presumably it's easier, mentally, after that.

The first player to become #1 for the first time in that period was Martina Hingis, on March 31, 1997, following Miami. Hingis did win Miami -- but she didn't have to; with Steffi Graf's points coming off, Hingis was #1 win, lose, or get injured. (The one thing winning did for her, aside from extending her winning streak, was enable her to keep the top spot throughout the spring while Hingis was herself injured.)

That was the last instance for quite a while of a player winning her way to the top, even in the limited sense that Hingis did it. The next new #1 we had was Lindsay Davenport, on October 12, 1998, at Filderstadt. Davenport had clinched #1 when Hingis lost there. Davenport then proceeded to lose herself to Sandrine Testud.

Fast forward three years and a day (October 13, 2001). The scene is again Filderstadt, and this time it's Jennifer Capriati going for the #1 ranking. Capriati lost to Testud in the quarterfinal. But Hingis injured herself in the semifinal, and Capriati was #1. But she didn't know it until after she lost.

The next change came after Dubai 2002. Venus Williams was going for #1, and, yes, she lost to Testud in the semifinal. But it didn't matter. Jennifer Capriati had not attempted to defend her points from Memphis 2001, where she had reached the final. That would have given Venus the #1 ranking even without playing Dubai.

That rather dismal record finally changed at Wimbledon 2002: Serena won Wimbledon, and she became #1 by virtue of winning it.

And, this week, Clijsters finally reached the top by winning Los Angeles. Even so, it took her three tries -- and a match against Lindsay Davenport, who seems to be working on some sort of record for finals lost by a Top Five player.

We can't absolutely prove what happened in the changes of #1 before that; we don't have the complete rankings tables involved. But it appears that Serena was the first player to win her way to the top in fifteen years. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario became #1 for the first time on February 6, 1995; she did not win a title that week (Steffi Graf failed to defend the Pan Pacific). Monica Seles became #1 for the first time on March 11, 1991; she did not win a title that week. Steffi Graf became #1 on August 17, 1987; that followed her win at Los Angeles.

Turning to doubles, much more briefly, the same sort of picture emerges: Most players did not win their way to the top. (We couldn't help noticing a strange oddity: Martina Hingis seems to have been responsible for a very large share of the changes in #1 ranking. You'll see what we mean.) Again, we're starting with 1996.

The first "first timer" in this period was Lindsay Davenport, who grabbed the #1 spot (from Natasha Zvereva) on October 20, 1997, following Zurich. Davenport wasn't even in a final that week; Martina Hingis and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario beat Larisa Neiland and Helena Sukova at Zurich, and Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs beat Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat at Quebec City.

Next to take #1 was Hingis herself, and she did do it by winning; she and Jana Novotna won Roland Garros, making Hingis #1 on June 8, 1998.

The next first timer was Anna Kournikova, who took the top spot on November 22, 1999, when she and Hingis won the year-end championships.

Our next #1 was Corina Morariu, who became #1 on April 3, 2000; she did not win that week. Julie Halard-Decugis and Ai Sugiyama beat Nicole Arendt and Manon Bollegraf at Miami.

That was the first rankings change in a wild year which saw six #1 doubles players -- all of them except Kournikova first-timers (and Kournikova was still in her first stint as #1; she'd merely taken the top ranking the year before). Lisa Raymond grabbed the top spot on June 12, following Roland Garros -- and no, she didn't win; Hingis and Mary Pierce beat Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez.

On August 21, 2000, we found ourselves with co-#1 players as Rennae Stubbs joined her partner Raymond at the top of the rankings. But they didn't win the Canadian Open; Hingis won it with Nathalie Tauziat. (We told you Hingis would show up a lot. But we're done with her now.)

Next to take the top ranking was Julie Halard-Decugis, who did it on September 11, 2000 (not yet an ominous day) after she and Ai Sugiyama won the U. S. Open.

Sugiyama was next to the top, gaining the spot on October 23, 2000. She did not win Linz, but she earned the top spot by reaching the final; she and Nathalie Tauziat lost to Amelie Mauresmo and Chanda Rubin (which is a pretty bad loss, given Mauresmo's doubles results).

It was almost two years before we had a new #1 in Paola Suarez, who made it on September 10, 2002. And she did do it the hard way, by winning the U. S. Open with Virginia Ruano Pascual.

And our latest new doubles #1 is Kim Clijsters, who made the top spot on August 4 (even though she's already lost it again). She did it in style; she and Sugiyama won San Diego.

Still, our record is this: In singles, of the last nine #1 players, only four (Graf, Hingis, Serena, Clijsters) won a tournament before becoming #1. And Hingis didn't have to win, so only three players actually won their way to the top.

In doubles, of the last ten first-time #1 players, half have won their way to the top: Hingis, Kournikova, Halard-Decugis, Suarez, and Clijsters.

Obviously players do win their way to the top. But it isn't all that common.


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My Way....
Since we're talking about the #1 ranking (and people are screaming about it all over the place), we thought we'd help the debate along. Just where do Serena and Clijsters stand under alternate rankings?

Here are some partial answers. If we still used the old WTA divisor rankings, Serena remains an overwhelming #1:

Rank..Player......Score
1..SWilliams.......428
2..Clijsters.......299
3..Henin-Hardenne..255
4..VWilliams.......253
5..Mauresmo........209
6..Davenport.......189
7..Capriati........136
8..Rubin...........109
9..Hantuchova.......94
10..Seles............82
11..Myskina..........80
12..Maleeva..........75
13..Martinez.........73
14..Kuznetsova.......72
15..Coetzer..........72
16..Petrova..........70
17..Zvonareva........70
18..Sugiyama.........66
19..Bovina...........61
20..Schnyder.........60

If we just calculate raw points per tournament, Serena's lead actually increases, and Venus Williams moves back to a surprising #2:

Rank..Player......Score
1..SWilliams.......545
2..VWilliams.......354
3..Clijsters.......299
4..Henin-Hardenne..255
5..Mauresmo........209
6..Davenport.......189
7..Capriati........136
8..Rubin...........109
9..Hantuchova.......94
10..Seles............82

If we count quality points per tournament, it's much the same story: Serena #1, Venus #2, Clijsters #3, Henin-Hardenne #4, Mauresmo #5, Davenport #6. If we shift to a system which doubles quality points (a good idea in the author's book), we get that very same list: #1 Serena, #2 Venus, #3 Clijsters, #4 Henin-Hardenne, #5 Mauresmo, #6 Davenport.

At least one commentator is calling for the women to shift to slotted rankings, i.e. required and optional. (This is known as, "Very dumb monkey see, very dumb monkey do.") It's worth remembering that the women do have slots: The Gold Exempt rules. The only difference is, they have a rational tier system, with More Required and Less Required events. The WTA rules state as follows:

Gold Exempt Players must commit to 13 specific Tour Tournaments, exclusive of the Grand Slams and the Tour Championships, in order to fulfill Minimum Commitment requirement rules as outlined below....

GE Standing...Commitment
1-6...........13 Tier I or II Tournaments
..............(5 of which must be Tier I)

It happens that Serena has never in her career met those requirements, even though she's Gold Exempt #1 this year. If she had met them, she would almost certainly still be #1. But if we accept that sort of slotting -- well, Clijsters remains #1. If you did literal ATP slotting (Slams, Tier I, and Masters are required events, five optional), then Serena takes the #1 spot. But the WTA is going to have ten Tier I events next year, when San Diego goes on. Are you then going to require all ten Tier I events and have only four optional events? Under that scenario, Clijsters would become #1 again; she played San Diego this year and Serena didn't.

Finally, let's crank what the author considers the best simple ranking system (i.e. one which can be calculated on any pocket calculator, but which takes into account players' current schedules and counts losses). This is the modified divisor: Slam points are reduced by one-fourth (to bring us back to their approximate original weight before the WTA went to additive rankings), but the divisor denominator is not the number of events you've played; rather, it's a minimum of 17, with each event over 16 counted as 2/3 of an event. That gives us this:

Rank..Player........Score
1....SWilliams.......317
2....Clijsters.......308
3....Henin-Hardenne..245
4....Davenport.......186
5....VWilliams.......184
6....Mauresmo........171
7....Capriati........135
8....Rubin...........107
9....Hantuchova.......98
10....Myskina..........84
11....Maleeva..........80
12....Martinez.........75
13....Coetzer..........75
14....Sugiyama.........70
15....Zvonareva........69
16....Seles............67
17....Kuznetsova.......66
18....Petrova..........65
19....Schnyder.........63
20....Dementieva.......62

This in fact bears a fairly close similarity to the WTA rankings (rather to the author's surprise), except for the key fact: Serena is still #1. Other than that, the top seven are unchanged, and we have the same ten players in the Top Ten.

The number of people who think Clijsters should be #1 is seemingly vanishingly small. The good news is, we could easily make Serena #1 without making the ranking system even worse for the lower-ranked players. By using, for example, the modified divisor shown above.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
This only goes to show how impressive Serena has been since ´02! Serena started the year as no.8 and was no.2 by RG!!! Damn!!

And she didn´t even play the Oz and lost all her qrtrs points!!

She became no.1 by virtue of winning two tier I´s and two GS´s and was the finalist at another tier I! That to me is more impressive than anything Kim´s done to become no.1!
 

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That divisor ranking you give is a bit misleading; since Serena pretty much only plays top events, of course her average is higher. Kim has title wins that bring her average down :(

I don't say that to mean Serena isn't the best player - she is. I am just saying a divisor ranking isn't perfect, either. A player shouldn't be punished for winning an event.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
jenglisbe said:
That divisor ranking you give is a bit misleading; since Serena pretty much only plays top events, of course her average is higher. Kim has title wins that bring her average down :(

I don't say that to mean Serena isn't the best player - she is. I am just saying a divisor ranking isn't perfect, either. A player shouldn't be punished for winning an event.
As a top player there isn´t really any need to play anything lower than tier II.....´cause playing at tier III´s just a way to winning easy titles. almost nobody in the tier III field does stand a realistic chance against anybody of the top 5.
 

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cut and paste :yawn:
 

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bandabou - I am talking Tier II events, many of which draw better fields than Tier 1 events like Moscow. Still, a player can win a Tier II event and lower their average because the max points aren't high; a player can get more points from a Tier I semi than a Tier II win. That is the problem with a divisor system.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
jenglisbe said:
bandabou - I am talking Tier II events, many of which draw better fields than Tier 1 events like Moscow. Still, a player can win a Tier II event and lower their average because the max points aren't high; a player can get more points from a Tier I semi than a Tier II win. That is the problem with a divisor system.
Ah o.k.....like that.You´ve point there..
 
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