- Associated Press - Thursday, January 26, 2012

Caroline Wozniacki’s stats in tennis majors make for grim reading.

The supposed top player in the world for the past 15 months has played in 20 Grand Slam tournaments since 2007 but made only one final, more than two years ago, which she lost.

At those premier events, she faced players ranked in the top 10 a total of seven times. But just twice _ yes, twice _ did she win those matchups. In other words, on the most prestigious stages, against the best players, the Dane consistently gets found out.

It gets worse.

Wozniacki’s 6-3, 7-6 (4) quarterfinal loss this week to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open was the 14th time she succumbed at a major to a player ranked lower than herself.

In other words, at tournaments that matter most in tennis, Wozniacki doesn’t live up to her billing.

Which all means what?

That the WTA’s system, which awarded Wozniacki the top spot for 67 weeks, is flawed. You can study the WTA’s small print all you like, about how it crunches the numbers to rank players by points they accumulate at tournaments over a 52-week period. Still, the result _ Wozniacki, No. 1, without a major title _ simply didn’t compute.

The same was true of Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, previous No. 1’s without a slam. Compared to the clarity on the men’s side, where the top three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have 30 majors among them, the pecking order on the women’s side made little sense.

Wozniacki reached the top more with consistency over the long haul rather than brilliance at the biggest events. The 21-year-old is a hard worker. She played in more tournaments _ 22 a year _ than most of the other top 10 women in 2010 and 2011. Only French workaholic Marion Bartoli trumped that, somehow finding time and energy to play 29 tournaments that award points last year. Maria Sharapova, who played 14 such tournaments in 2011, was a slouch in comparison.

Unlike Francesca Schiavone of Italy or Samantha Stosur from Australia, Wozniacki did not play Fed Cup, which doesn’t award WTA ranking points. And she avoided debilitating injury. Serena Williams, the 13-time Grand Slam champion, sliced her right foot on broken glass in 2010 and was bedridden with blood clots on both lungs.

That is not to say Wozniacki was No. 1 by default, only because other top women were sidelined or not playing as much. Wozniacki won in Dubai, Indian Wells, Charleston, Brussels, Copenhagen and New Haven in 2011, following her six titles the previous year. Not bad at all. One doesn’t need a WTA computer to tell you that.

But Wozniacki hasn’t reached a Grand Slam final since her solitary appearance at one in 2009, at the US Open, where Clijsters tidied her away in straight sets. No matter what supporters say about Wozniacki’s week-in, week-out dedication, that’s an underwhelming showing from the player we’re told was world’s best. From their No. 1, tennis fans are entitled to expect more.

Martina Navratilova suggested as much this week.

“Clearly nobody feels that Wozniacki is a true No. 1,” said the winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, words that wouldn’t have been said about her.

Rightly, however, Navratilova blamed the WTA’s system, not Wozniacki.

“She’s No. 1 because that’s how they set up the computer ranking,” she said. “It weighs too much on quantity and not enough on quality.”

One suggestion, echoed by Navratilova, is that the WTA could promote quality over quantity by awarding bonus points for wins against top players, a tweak that could reward lower-ranked players who surpass themselves and penalize top players who don’t do as well as they perhaps should. The WTA awarded “quality” points in the past but says it has no immediate plans to do so again.

“In a step to simplify and make it easier for fans and media, the ranking system was changed in 2006 with full consultation with our player and tournament members,” the WTA e-mailed in response to questions on this issue. “This decision to eliminate quality points was made with the support of the Players’ Council. Our players felt that all players in any given tournament should have an equal opportunity to earn the same amount of ranking points, rather than have the amount of ranking points earned be partially dependent on their opponents’ ranking.”

Wozniacki’s loss in Australia to Clijsters ended her reign at the top, at least for now. She will be replaced in new rankings Monday by Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka, depending on which wins their Australian Open final.

Sharapova, a former No. 1, won Wimbledon in 2004, the 2006 U.S. Open and the Australian Open in 2008. Azarenka is looking for her first major trophy in 25 tournaments. The winner Saturday will also take the top spot.

So, either way, women’s tennis will again have a No. 1 with a major title.

Which is closer to how things should be.


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester

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