Holding the No. 1 ranking is undoubtedly an honour, but it can come with problems for players who’re not able to convert it into Grand Slam titles and reach the pinnacle of tennis.
Caroline Wozniacki started the Australian Open as the leading player in women’s tennis, on paper, after winning six tournaments last year, though she’s never won a major and has reached a Grand Slam final just once, losing the U.S. Open to Serena Williams in 2009.
The 20-year-old Danish player is not alone in that category. No. 2 Vera Zvonareva of Russia reached her first two Grand Slam finals last year but hasn’t yet hoisted a trophy. Russia’s Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia have been there too, reaching the top ranking in 2009 and 2008 respectively though neither of them have a major title.
Safina lost 6-0, 6-0 to Kim Clijsters on Tuesday night in the first round of the Australian Open, describing it as a major embarrassment. Clijsters, who lost three Grand Slam finals before finally cracking a major at the U.S. Open in 2005, can empathise with the plight of players who’re struggling to turn a top ranking into a championship crown.
“She didn’t get to No. 1 just by luck, so that game is still there,” Clijsters said of Safina. “She needs to win a few matches to build up her confidence.”
Wozniacki, 20, has shrugged off the missing notch on her belt, saying she has nothing to prove. She has also noted, though, that the No. 1 ranking has given her a good feeling about the Australian Open.
Jankovic, who was in a similar situation to Wozniacki 2 1/2 years ago, didn’t think it caused a top-ranked player to be under even greater pressure to win.
“Always the same questions!” Jankovic said after her first round win at Melbourne Park, where she was asked how Wozniacki’s circumstances compared with her experience. “I mean, what kind of pressure?”
Still, she hinted that a Grand Slam title was a prize that could outweigh the more fleeting status of world No. 1 ranking.
“It’s a Grand Slam and everybody wants to win it,” she said. “I think every player has extra motivation when they’re playing a Grand Slam because they want to really win it. Doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 or not.”
Wozniacki has a grip on top spot as long as she doesn’t slump badly in the coming days. She has a comfortable-looking draw until the semifinals, where she could meet fourth-seeded Venus Williams.
Just three of the top 10 seeded women in Melbourne have won Grand Slam titles - Williams has seven, Clijsters three and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone one. In comparison, four of the top 10 men’s seeds have major titles - Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer dominate with 25 between them, and one each to Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic.
Zvonareva adopted a common refrain among players here who’re asked about achieving the top ranking without a Grand Slam title.
“I’m a tennis player, and my job is to play tennis,” she said. “So I go out there, I try my best in every single match. If I win, that’s great. If I have some losses, well, I try to take something out of it and try to go back on the court and work even harder.” But what is more important, reaching No. 1 or winning a Grand Slam?
“Either thing is great,” she said. “I mean, I wouldn’t find a player who would say, ‘I don’t want to be No. 1 in the world,’ or, ‘I don’t want to win a Grand Slam.’ Everyone wants to be No. 1. Everyone wants to win Grand Slams. “In order to do so, you have to win matches - you have to win a lot of matches. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s it.”
Keywords: Australian Open