For the first time in three years, women’s tennis could have seen a change at the top last weekend. Unfortunately for Angelique Kerber, the German was denied a chance to top the WTA singles rankings after losing to Karolina Pliskova in the Cincinnati Open final.
Had Kerber not lost 3-6, 1-6 to the Czech, Serena Williams’ stranglehold of the No 1 rank would finally have been broken. However, all is not over for Kerber. With the last Grand Slam of the year starting next week at Flushing Meadows, the top spot will again be on the line. However, this time, hypothetically, there are four contenders.
The No 1 spot is the most coveted for a sportsperson. Hours and years are spent trying to perfect one’s technique and stamina to stay atop. Serena, a month shy of 35, is showing no signs of slowing down. In the 15 years she’s been on Tour, the American has held on the to No 1 spot six times, the most recent being the current stint since February 2013. Despite missing out on a fifth Olympic medal in Rio, Serena will be gunning for her 23rd Major in New York, an Open Era record. Her record-equalling 22nd slam with Steffi Graf came at Wimbledon when she beat Kerber for the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Serena leads the rankings with 7050 points but Kerber, who won her maiden Major in Australia this year, is close on her tail with 6860 points. If the German manages to overtake Serena, she will be the 22nd woman to become No 1 since computer rankings were introduced. Kerber has been consistently doing well this season with two wins from six final appearances. Coming so close to be halted in the final hurdle must have hurt Kerber in Cincinnati. And the words by Pliskova after the loss: “I think you (Kerber) deserve to be number one, maybe next time” must surely be a motivation to go one step further.
Serena, on a Career Slam path last year, was beaten by Roberta Vinci in the semis at US Open. Thus, she’s defending 780 points while Kerber is defending only 130 after her third-round loss. There is a 190-point difference between the top two players but there are a lot of calculations and permutations involved. If Serena clinches her 23rd Major, she will remain the No 1 no questions asked. But, if both make the final, the winner will walk away with the coveted spot. However, if Kerber reaches the quarters, Serena will have to reach the final in order to keep her chances open of retaining her rank.
The battle between Serena and Kerber is intense but there is an outside chance of Garbine Muguruza or Agnieszka Radwanska toppling both. Spain’s Muguruza, the Roland Garros winner, could take over the spot if she wins her second Major provided Kerber isn’t in the final. Poland’s Radwanska’s maiden slam win could see her become the new No 1. Muguruza is currently third on the ranking list with 5830 points while Radwanska is fourth, 490 points behind. Radwanska’s performance in the ongoing Connecticut Open will also play a decisive factor apart from her showing in Flushing Meadows.
Serena always raises her game when it matters. And she will surely be eager to topple Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Majors in the coming season. But, in case she loses the top spot, there will be some consolation from knowing she will equal Graf’s record of most consecutive weeks as No 1 during the two weeks of the US Open at 186 weeks.