Today in the Doha quarterfinals, Serena Williams defeated Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. This took her back to the No. 1 ranking, making her the oldest No. 1 in the entire history of the WTA. Afterward, you could tell the win meant a lot to her:
It was touching to see her so sensitive and open, and she certainly showed (once again) that there’s a lot more to Serena Williams than the public usually sees.
There are a billion reasons that her feat today was impressive. It’s 11 years since she first became No. 1 in 2002. This is her sixth time grabbing the ranking. She’s 31 years old. Three weeks ago, her ankle looked like a balloon. This will be her 124th week at No. 1. Two years ago, she was on crutches, and soon after that she was hospitalized with a blood clot. Today she was clearly a bit under-the-weather and still bothered by her ankle, and Petra Kvitova was playing the way she did when she won Wimbledon. Serena dropped the first set and was down a break in the third!
Serena had to earn this the old-fashioned way, and it was pretty incredible to watch her do so. The second half of the third set she simply found another gear and played at a much higher level than she had all tournament. She wanted it. This meant something. This was not just another match. It was a victory that came from deep down within and we were all very lucky to get to witness it.
Of course, some journalists took no time taking this 100% joyous moment for Serena and twisting it to fit their own personal narratives. A few examples:
Confirming what we already knew, Serena Williams is best player in women’s tennis again. Win over Kvitova in Doha and she is No.1 at 31
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) February 15, 2013
Now Serena Williams ought to show she can really rise above and play Indian Wells
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) February 15, 2013
I just think it would be tremendous for tennis and Serena if she played Indian Wells. It would demonstrate strength, humility, forgiveness
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) February 15, 2013
I’m delighted for @serenawilliams and delighted for credibility of WTA. Now the No 1 is the best player in the world.
— Richard Ingham Evans (@Ringham7) February 15, 2013
SIGH. Where to start? First of all, the narrative of Serena rescuing the “credibility” of the WTA has been going on for about five years now, and it just will not stop, even though it is completely sensationalistic and false. Serena Williams has been playing tennis for the last 12 months just like Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova. She has played in four Grand Slams in the past year. She has won two and lost in the quarterfinals and first round in the others. Azarenka has won one, made a semifinal, final, and fourth round. Sharapova has a win, two semifinals, and a fourth round. These are all pretty consistent results, and all are worthy number ones.
But really, this shouldn’t even need explaining. The No. 1 ranking has never been about individual match-ups, head-to-heads, or individual tournaments. It’s not a power ranking system. It’s not the BCS. It’s not single elimination. It’s about consistency and greatness. It’s math. The equations are made public. It’s not complicated. It’s not rocket science. The “credible” and “true” No. 1 is the person with the No. 1 next to their name, because nobody hands out No. 1 rankings. They are earned, and it’s impossible to earn it without deserving it. End of story.
Victoria Azarenka deserved the No. 1 ranking this week. Serena Williams will deserve it next week. The WTA is not more or less credible in either scenario. It’s a false narrative created to shame the women at the top of the game for the sake of shaming.
Secondly, the fact that Serena’s boycott of Indian Wells continues to be questioned is one of the most ridiculous things EVER. I mean, she forfeits those points every single year- do people really think that’s just a matter of arrogance and weakness of character? Is it really for HER to rise above, when clearly this boycott is something that means a lot to her? She was the one wronged in this situation. She was the one who felt disrespected as a player and as a human being, who had racial slurs hurled at her and her integrity as a competitor blasted. Serena and Venus have dealt with hostile crowds throughout their career, and yet Indian Wells is the only tournament they’ve ever boycotted. This was not a willy-nilly decision taken lightly. This is a stand. And tennis fans and media need to do a better job not only respecting and admiring that, but using it as an opportunity to have a difficult but long overdue and often brushed over conversation about race and class in tennis.
It’s certainly not appropriate to take one of the best moments of her career and shamelessly make it about the worst.
Today was about celebrating Serena Williams and all the ups and downs of her career that have led to this moment. No. 1 again. 15 Grand Slam Titles. A true, unquestionable, inspiring love for the sport that has made her a star. It was a moment for us all to reflect on her greatness, her legacy, her resiliency, and her complexities that make her one of the best tennis players of all time. That can and SHOULD be done without bringing others down or questioning her character. It’s not that hard.
For the record, there was also a lot of class shown in the tennis community today. Here are some people who did it right:
@serenawilliams Congrats Serena( even though u broke my “oldest” record!) Your # 1 ranking is richly deserved…
— Chris Evert (@ChrissieEvert) February 15, 2013
@petra_kvitova is a class act. One of the 1st things she said in presser is that she is very happy that Serena is at No1 cuz she deserves it
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 15, 2013
GONE SERENA, GONE!!!! #1
— Venus Williams (@Venuseswilliams) February 15, 2013
Congratulations, Serena. Thanks for being awesome.
I hate Neil Harman with every fibre of my being.
Everything you said is the truth, especially the number one discussion,whoever gets it deserves it and people should really stop trying to criticize or explain away any theory when someone other than Serena has it,this coming from an Serena fan…if you don’t like the system then take it to the WTA authorities…
As for Indian Wells, they can say what they want, my theory is “who feels it knows it all” it’s very easy to downplay people’s position on certain issues, but unless you are the one that suffered it, you could elaborate all you want I will side with the offended on this matter…
Now this is my personal feeling about Serena and the ranking,I trully could care less if she was number 888 because to me at this point of her career ranking does not matter to me as a fan,of course I don’t count, but I just feel that Serena does much much better in the field when she hunts rather than when she is hunted,I don’t want to say it’s a good motivation to stay hungry but to me there is always that sense of proving something that I get on her winning statements when she is nowhere near the overwhelming favorite,not that she can’t validate those narratives,it’s just it’s almost hypnotic the way she swallows any doubt and that is tantalizing to me as a fan,the multiple comebacks she orchestrated in her tennis life is unbelievable therefore I elect to wait patiently for the “passing of the guard” while wishing luck to all young american new comers,as a tennis fan it could only mean more fun for me:) but waiting till it’s there to state it will be more reasonable…
So congrats for being number one Serebaby but if indeed you’d stay there or not does not matter for this tennis fan,I know what you could do!!!
Funny, I don’t remember your defense of the WTA and the ranking system when Wozniacki was number one.
This website is only four months old. I never thought that Wozniacki or the WTA deserved the vitriol they received during that time period, and that’s because of everything I stated above. Wozniacki, Jankovic, and Safina all deserved the No. 1 when they earned it. That’s how it works. The system now is the same as it was then, so if Serena’s a credible No. 1 then they were too.
Well, that would have been pretty difficult for Linz to write a defense of Wozniacki’s number one ranking at The Changeover, since it’s only been in existence since October…
I’m not talking about this website, per say. Lindsay, among countless others, never believed that Wozniacki deserved number one and were incredulous of a ranking system that had her 67 weeks at the top spot. Now that isn’t much different from these journalists saying that the system now has “credibility” again with Serena at number one.
I’m not sure why you think I never believed Wozniacki deserved No. 1. I have never been the biggest fan of her tennis, and when she was No. 1 and playing her best she had a lot of disappointing performances at Majors, but she was the No. 1 and deserved to be and there was nothing at all wrong with the ranking system. I think you are confusing me with someone else. My argument in this piece has always been my argument.
Just a quick Google search gives me this from another website. http://tennis.si.com/2012/04/05/the-toss-caroline-wozniacki-agnieszka-radwanska-slam/
“…Someone like Wozniacki — after carrying the No. 1 crown for so long — will always have an asterisk by her name.”
Your name is Lindsay Gibbs, right? 🙂
Hah! Acknowledging that in the eyes of most there is an asterisk next to her two year-end No. 1s because she didn’t win a Slam is not at all the same thing as saying that I “never believed that Wozniacki deserved number one and (was) incredulous of a ranking system that had her 67 weeks at the top spot.” I’ve always been a big defender of the WTA and the rankings system.
“We all like to think of the Caro no. 1 days as the ‘dark days’, but I think her consistency forced everyone to get their shit together.”
We? Speak for yourself. This just hows a legitimate a number one you think Wozniacki was when you call it the WTA’s dark ages.
Mark surely you do not want to compare Wozniacki lead up to number one to Serena’s. Serena’s won Wimbledon, Olympics, US Open and YEC. Her road has quality tournaments not quantity of tournaments in remote areas against players rank 100 and above. Surely you do not think Wozniaki’s rise to number one should be celebrated, when she hardly beat anyone of substance to get there. Even Safina’s number one was much better because she beat some quality people and played and won premier tournaments.
I think you exaggerate slightly? I completely agree that Wozniacki’s grand slam record as #1 was lacking – not so much at the hard court slams, but at the French Open & Wimbledon. However, she also won Indian Wells and Beijing, and Tokyo and Montreal, in the years in which she was year-end #1. In 2010 at the YEC she beat three top ten players including the then #2, Vera Zvonareva, who had the best season of her career. She played mostly the same tournaments as other top ten players – I’d hardly count Copenhagen as “remote”.
I’ve questioned some of Caroline’s scheduling choices in the past, but that relates to playing a tourney the week before a slam – the same criticism one can make of Radwanska’s scheduling. Not conducive to doing well in the slam itself.
praise this post.
Agree with everything you said, Lindsay, ten times over. I’m also going to add that the people who claim that the WTA ranking system is inferior to the ATP one should consider the fact that if Djokovic had lost the recent Australian Open final to Murray, he would still have been ranked No. 1 by nearly 2,000 points in spite of not winning a major over the last 52 weeks and Murray would have stayed at No. 3 in spite of winning the last 2 majors, making the final of a third major, *and* winning Olympic gold on top of all of that. And even then, the rankings would still have accurately reflected that Djokovic was much more consistent in tournaments overall than Murray was, as much as the WTA rankings for 2011 accurately reflected that Wozniacki played at a consistent level for almost the whole year while Grand Slam champions like Li and Kvitova struggled to string together consecutive wins at various points.
With that said, much congratulations to Serena. It was great to watch her get to cry tears of joy after being thwarted by injuries at the Australian Open. Here’s hoping that she (and the rest of the WTA too) manages to stay injury-free for the rest of the season.
So much word on the ranking systems, Ophelia. And the staying injury-free for all. 🙂
I’m sure Serena’s and Venus’ boycott of Indian Wells is justified from their point of view, but 12 years later it deserves no respect or admiration.
Crowds, by definition, participate in mob psychology, and are moved emotionally by perceptions of the moment. From today’s perspective, it seems completely silly that people believed Richard Williams decided beforehand who would win when the sisters played each other, or that Venus withdrew from the 2001 Indian Wells semifinal simply because she didn’t want to play Serena. But at the time, Venus and Serena had played each other only five times, and most of those matches had an anticlimactic quality that made a lot of people wonder. Venus, Serena, and especially Richard could have managed this perception better by being less cryptic and standoffish in their interactions with the media, but wouldn’t learn this until later. Anyway, due to a combination of appearances and unfortunate misunderstandings that came together on one day in 2001, much of the crowd of 16,000 felt wronged by the Williams family and voiced their reaction. No doubt a few, perhaps a few dozen, bellowed racial epithets as Richard said they did. Any sufficiently large crowd, anywhere in the world, will inevitably and unfortunately contain at least a small fraction of racists.
Serena and Venus have no obligation to forgive the individual fans who booed them that day, let alone those who exhibited racism. But the behavior of those particular fans is not the fault of the Indian Wells tournament, or of the town of Indian Wells, or of the greater community of the Coachella Valley, or of the WTA. Even if it were, all those communities and institutions have changed since 2001. The tournament is under new ownership. The population of the Coachella Valley has grown by 67%, its myriad individual towns including Palm Springs now forming an integral metropolitan area, and non-Hispanic whites are now a minority. The WTA has become more diverse, featuring significant numbers of star players of every race and from nearly every region of the world.
The boycott hurt not only the fans who misbehaved in 2001. It hurts this year’s fans, most of whom were not present in 2001, and many of whom will travel from all over the American Southwest to attend the tournament. It hurts especially fans from Southern California who idolize Venus and Serena specifically because they grew up in Compton, and who will miss another chance to see the Williamses play what is in a sense their home tournament. It hurts millions of fans around the world who watch the tournament on television. And it hurts the WTA, according to whose rules Indian Wells has been a mandatory tournament since 2009, and without whom Venus’ and Serena’s careers would have been far less lucrative.
When confronted by racism and other forms of hatred, it is important to stand up for one’s rights and dignity. It is also important not to let those stands grow into grudges that live on past all justification and do more damage to the innocent than to the guilty.
You make some wonderful points in your response regarding the Indian Wells’ issue. However, it all goes back to perception. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like for Venus and Serena to experience what they did in 2001. For what it is worth, I recently went and saw the movie Django Unchained. I have never experienced slavery. I have never been whipped by white people. I work in a firm that has all of my bosses being white (I am a fat black woman by the way) and I have never felt any racist undertones when I am reprimanded by any of the attorneys in my firm, even when they yell at me (which they do from time to time when arguments get heated).
However, after I saw the movie Django Unchained, I came away with a different perspective on this whole racism thing. Richard Williams grew up in the deep south in the US where his parents were sharecroppers. From history one can understand the victimisation that Richard and his family went through during that time. These lessons that he lived he shared with his children. He taught them about us against the world.
Fast forward to 2001 and these ladies are now young women. They have seen and experienced much in a sport that is dominated by white folks. The lessons taught to them by their father are now staring them in the face. They realise that everything that their father told them was true. How then do you expect them to actually take up their racquet bags and head to a place where they were tarred and feathered and called liars. I think it would be very hard for them to do that.
Even worse than the fans, the previous owners never came out and offered an apology for their part in the incident. The tournament director never came out and informed fans that Venus had withdrawn from the semifinal until it was too late to do so. The tournament did not do what the tournament was supposed to do in relation to this incident.
Despite the tournament having been sold to Larry Ellison and his group, I understand that the previous owners still have a hand in the organisations etc. As such, I doubt that either Venus or Serena will ever head back to the desert.
These are all really interesting points, and there’s certainly no simple answer to this issue so entranced in race, class, money, and pride. I do think the fact that the fans are not getting to see Venus and Serena in IW is a good point, and those fans are being punished for something many of them had no part of. However, I also haven’t seen a big movement from fans or organization to reach out to the Williams Sisters, apologize, and let them know that they would be welcome back. (Perhaps this has happened and I missed it.) It seems like the pressure has been on them to forgive and forget, without even acknowledging that their feelings. As I mentioned above, Serena and Venus have been treated very poorly by a lot of crowds all around the country, so you must think that what happened in Indian Wells was drastically worse and that they feel their continued boycott is justified and necessary. I’m more prone to accept their feelings on this issue, since I grew up in a white middle-class household and have never and will never experience what it feels like to have racial slurs hurled at me. I also think that a really important part in this is that the incident happened not only in their own country as they were rising to stardom, but a mere 2 hours away from Compton where they were born and started playing tennis. I have to imagine that being in such the affluent Indian Wells community and being treated in such a demeaning manner had to be even more personal and hurtful since they were so close to the place they grew up.
So while I do understand that their boycott effects the WTA and Indian Wells negatively and innocent tennis fans negatively, I have to respect it and give them the benefit of the doubt that this is worth it to them. They have been treated poorly by fans all over the world and never made a big deal about it before, so this boycott should be respected and used as an opportunity for us all to learn.
You missed out Harman’s most telling line, Linz, responding to a sarcastic tweet – “I am not privileged, the colour of my skin has nothing whatever to do with it.”
Wasn’t that sad? There is really nothing that irks me more than people not acknowledging privilege.
She is on steroids,it is so obvious.
last time i check on google,i read that steroids could cause pulmonary embolism
Lindsay, I really appreciate your billion reasons why Serena’s regaining the #1 was a big deal.
But I don’t approve at all of your defense of the flawed-at-its-core WTA ranking system. Any ranking system, at its core, should have some predictive value — it should produce a result such that (with occasional very brief contrary intervals) people have confidence that the #1 player should be the betting favorite against any other player. Ranking points should not be awarded based on the number of matches one wins, but on the quality of the opponents one has won and lost against. As I’m sure you know, Serena was 8-0 against her two leading rivals last year and has an unbelievable record against top 5 opponents going back several years.
Can you imagine a heavyweight champion in boxing losing five times in a row to one opponent (some of them by early knock-out) and not losing his belt? It would be a scandal and deservedly so.
The supreme irony is that for the last six months Serena has been CLEARLY the best player in the world but lacked the #1 ranking. Finally, however, during the very week that Azarenka finally demonstrates something close to equivalence with Serena, she loses the top spot. It’s absurd.
Last summer and fall Serena won nearly every event she competed in and absolutely crushed most of her opponents — but the ranking system kept her “in her place”. This year, she is beaten in the QF’s of the AO and the Finals of Doha — both of which events were won by Azarenka – and NOW the ranking system decides that Serena is the true #1.
It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Thank you for the comment, Patrick, but I really disagree with you here. To change the ranking system to make it subjective or weighted or based upon individual match-ups would essentially make the week-in-week out nature of the WTA negligible and also open up a giant can of worms. You can’t just weight things for the top players- you’d have to do it for all the players. So Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is coming back from injury, would surely not be ranked No. 48- after all, she’d be favored over Wickmayer, Cornet, Paszek, or any number of players ahead of her. But that’s not fair to the players who have been out there all year long. You have to earn your ranking, and you earn it in a different way than you earn titles or individual wins. It means that rankings are a different achievement, but that’s okay. It encourages players to play more events, to try and be at their best at all times, which is overall good for the health of the WTA. It’s also why it means so much to players. You can’t get the No. 1 ranking from reputation, from history, or from a few good results. It is not a power rankings system or a voting system, nor should it be. It’s why it means so much to the players when they earn it, and why we saw Serena be so emotional. Sure, she’s a favorite in any match she’s in. She’s one of the greatest players of all time. That’s different than being the current No. 1 in the rankings. For a tour like the WTA to survive, more tournaments than just the four Grand Slams have to matter, and the system has to be fair to more players than just the top 5. That’s why it has to be based on math, not perception. It’s like this in other sports too. Teams earn their playoff seeding in the NFL based off of their regular season schedule. Most people would expect the New England Patriots to beat the Houston Texans, but if the Texans beat the players in front of them during the regular season then they get the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. This is fair. Of course, they still have to get through the Patriots (and other teams- just using a rough example) to get the ultimate prize, the Super Bowl. Just like Azarenka and company still likely have to get through Serena Williams to get a Grand Slam. Not being ranked No. 1 doesn’t prevent Serena from playing in tournaments and competing for titles and being the favorite. It does motivate her and encourage her to play more tournaments and fight harder, which is good for everyone. Do you think she would have played Doha if she didn’t need to play it to earn the No. 1 ranking?
Anyways, sorry for the rant. A lot of people think like you do obviously, it’s just that I firmly believe that the rankings system cannot be opinion based, and needs to say on the 52 week rotating scale. It’s the best for everyone.
“Can you imagine a heavyweight champion in boxing losing five times in a row to one opponent (some of them by early knock-out) and not losing his belt? It would be a scandal and deservedly so.”
The thing is, boxing make people even angrier. Oh, he doesn’t deserve his belt, he hasn’t fought X yet. Oh, he doesn’t deserve his belt, he lost to Y in a non-title fight. Oh, so and so’s only getting this fight because of politics. And the boxing rankings are even more confusing than the WTA rankings. Thank goodness they don’t regularly seed tournaments based on them! Heck, they can’t even figure out who the real champions *are* – there are something like 80 recognized belt holders for only ~16 weight classes. Honestly, combat sports are the most badly-managed, corrupt sports in existence. I wouldn’t use boxing/MMA/etc as a model for tennis in a million years.
I think a perfect ranking system is quite literally impossible. At it’s core, it’s a kind of voting problem, and making it perfectly fair with >2 players just can’t be done. Which is why a reasonably simple system, where players know what they have to do to get a certain ranking, is as good as it’s going to get. And frankly, it’s not all that bad as it is. If Vika wanted to still be number one, she should have won more on clay and grass. If Serena wanted to be number one sooner, she shouldn’t have lost the first round of the FO. And since they know that, it works. Just so long as it difficult to intentionally game the system for more than a couple of ranking sports, I’m not going to complain at all.
Although, this discussion makes me want to go make a “lineal #1” ranking history, just to see what happens…
Good stuff. As far as rankings go, I do think there should be a discussion about whether the system (on both tours) should be tweaked to reflect, not just historical performance, but “significant achievement”. One obvious example would be to change the spread between majors and the non-majors. Should winning a major be worth more than double a non-major, as it is now, or should a major winner get additional points for winning a theoretically harder tournament (this is more pronounced on the ATP tour, where you have the Master 1000s Best of 3, and the Majors Best of 5). Another possible tweak would be to reward players who repeat in events. Djokovic has won the AO 3 straight times…maybe that needs some recognition.
Im not to invested in this argument – I think the rankings work generally well. But I do think there might be some tweaks that would go a way towards trying to better define who truly is the “Top” player in the world at any given time.
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