Quantitiy versus quality

It’s interesting to note that Serena Williams remains number two in the ladies’ rankings, despite being the reigning champion in three of the four Grand Slam singles events after her 7-5, 6-2 victory over sister Venus yesterday.

Dinara Safina retains her status as the women’s number one, at least according to the official rankings, on the basis of her overall record over the past twelve months, as well as decent runs in the Grand Slams – finalist in Australia and France, semi-finalist at Wimbledon – which have marked her out as a consistent performer, although not actually a winner as such.

And therein lies the point. Safina, like Jelena Jankovic last year, has ascended to the top of the rankings without ever having won a major. The ranking system rewards achievement in terms of quantity and consistency of performance; it does not reward ‘winners’, as such. That’s not to say Safina hasn’t done well over the past 12 months; she has, reaching ten finals (winning five) in the past year. But she has consistently failed to win the big matches against the big players at the big tournaments. Her Grand Slam final record makes for sorry reading: played three, lost three, all in straight sets. Indeed, she has been obliterated by both Williams sisters in majors this year: 6-0, 6-3 by Serena in the Australian final and 6-0, 6-1 by Venus in her Wimbledon semi-final. In particular, in the latter match last Thursday, her body language throughout the second set gave the impression of a player who knew she was outgunned and resultantly couldn’t be bothered.

Safina’s performance in these big matches throws her number one status into sharp relief. She may have more ranking points than anyone else, but you would not back her to win a match against either Williams sister, or indeed a major final against anyone. (Two of her three Grand Slam final defeats have come against Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova, neither of whom have a reputation for either consistency or mental toughness.)

So, while the official standings state that Dinara Safina is the top-ranked women’s player in the world, nobody really believes she is anywhere close to being the best player. There’s a big difference between the two. It’s a shame the ranking system doesn’t reflect it.

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