Eight pretenders in WTA Game of Thrones
There is more than just the final Grand Slam spoils of the year at stake at the US Open, with no fewer than eight of the women on show gunning for the WTA World No1 ranking. We run the rule over the pretenders to the crown.
With Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams and Karolina Pliskova having already taken turns at the top of the WTA Rankings in 2017, the question is, who will be next? Simona Halep has come closer than anyone else to claiming the No1 slot, which would have been hers had she won the French Open final, her Wimbledon quarter-final or the final in Cincinnati. The Romanian will have another opportunity to snatch the crown at the US Open, though she is far from alone in harbouring that aspiration, with seven other players all in with a mathematical chance of being world No1 by the end of the fortnight.
It is a scenario the women’s tour has not seen for some years, so dominant has Williams been. Only Kerber has toppled her from her lofty perch, a feat she achieved at the end of a “Serenaesque” 2016 in which she won two Grand Slam titles and finished a runner-up at a third, as well as at the WTA Finals and the Olympic Games. With the German enduring an uninspiring 2017 campaign and the 23-time Grand Slam winner taking a break from the game to give birth to her first child in September, there is everything to play at the top of the women’s tree.
Muguruza on the scent of stumbling Halep and Pliskova
The reigning No1 is Pliskova, who took up residence at the top of the Rankings after Wimbledon, where Halep passed up her second golden opportunity to replace Kerber. The Romanian is but five points behind the Czech in second, however, and will have another chance to make the No1 spot hers at Flushing Meadows, on account of having fewer points to defend (Pliskova reached the final at last year’s US Open, while Halep went out in the quarter-finals).
The battle for supremacy in the women’s game is far from a duel, however. The top two’s lack of consistency in Grand Slam events has allowed Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza to creep up on them, a little over 500 points adrift in third. Thanks in no small part to her recent wins at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, Muguruza has made up for a statistically underwhelming first half of the year and has shot to the front of the Race to Singapore. The momentum is unmistakably with the Spaniard. The two-time Grand Slam champion seems to be the best placed and the best equipped to achieve her objective, if not in the next few days, then over the coming weeks.
“Before the final in Cincinnati I thought about the chance Halep had of becoming world No1, and I said to myself: ‘I’d love to be in her position’,” said the 2016 French Open champion, who beat the Romanian 6-1, 6-0 to lift the Cincinnati title. “A lot of people ask me about the chance of maybe being No1 one day. The only thing I want, though, is to win tournaments. That’s what motivates me, always. The ranking is just something that comes from that. If I keep playing like this, then I guess I’ll make it sooner or later.”
Five more waiting in the wings in New York
All three are masters of their own destiny in New York, though there is much more to the battle for No1 than just them, with five other players all in with a chance of making it theirs at the US Open: Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams. However, as well as winning the title US Open, they each need the top three to be knocked out early if they are to seize the crown. One player who is out of the running is world No6 Kerber, who, as the reigning US Open champion in New York, cannot add to her points total, even if she retains the title.
While the “mano a mano” between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the ATP Rankings might be making all the headlines, the women are serving up plenty of excitement of their own. And it is a story that is set to run. Aside from this being the first time in years that the battle for the No1 slot has been so open, it is anyone’s guess as to who will make it theirs in the coming weeks and for how long.