dominant force

When It Comes To Rankings, Serena Has Only Herself To Blame

When Serena Williams won Wimbledon earlier this summer, she mockingly praised Dinara Safina for her No. 1 ranking, saying she earned it by winning Rome and Madrid before bursting out into laughter.

Delightfully catty as these comments might be, Safina has ultimately been able to accomplish something that Serena hasn’t: producing consistent results over an entire calendar year.

Common sense would tell you that three Grand Slams are more worthy of the No. 1 ranking than winning a few premiere events as Safina has done. However, throughout their entire careers, Serena and older sister Venus have remained an anomaly, the exception to virtually every rule in tennis. Serena’s results over the last year are a prime example of this. How can a player win three of the last four Grand Slams, yet fail to win a WTA event in almost 18 months and post a 3-5 record in WTA events since April?

Serena’s position below Safina has nothing to do with a flawed ranking system. Rather, it’s a direct result of Serena being absent from tournament play for months of a time, and then showing up at regular tour events with a level of play well below the expected standard of a dominant force in tennis.

Serena virtually skipped the entire fall season last year, winning only one match, and sported an 0-3 record in all of her clay court tournaments leading to Roland Garros this year. That means there’s a five-month stretch of time over the last year where she has failed to do anything of note.

The new roadmap that the WTA has put in place, requiring mandatory participation at select events throughout the year, should have served as a benefit in helping Serena take over the No. 1 ranking. However, she’s showed up at most events not in match shape and in some cases looking disinterested. A prime example of her often lackluster play in WTA events came last week in Cincinnati, as she displayed a listless, error-filled game in losing to Sybille Bammer in the third round.

Wimbledon is far more difficult to win than Marbella or Stanford, so why can’t she win these lower events? How can she be walloped by Elena Dementieva in Sydney and then dominate her at the Australian Open less than two weeks later? The simple answer is that she doesn’t take WTA events as seriously. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you’ve achieved almost everything possible in your sport.

Safina may not have won a Grand Slam yet, but the rankings don’t solely rely on the results of one tennis match. She makes it to the weekend stages of almost every tournament she plays and despite crumbling in the Grand Slam finals she has played in, should be commended for even making it that far. She will need to win at least one Grand Slam to have the Hall of Fame worthy career that Serena has, but Safina should be applauded for her efforts, not criticized.

As for Serena, the fall season that she typically avoids will await her after the US Open. She’s defending less than 400 points during that stretch, while Safina has to defend a mountain of points during that time. In theory, Serena could go on tour this fall to promote her upcoming autobiography On The Line, or simply kick back for three months and watch the No. 1 spot fall in her lap. However, if Serena thinks the ranking system is a farce, I expect her to play a full schedule in the fall and reclaim the spot she rightfully deserves.

Only then will she have truly deserved the last laugh.