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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: April 15, 2009

4/15/2009 3:25:00 PM

Sweet Spot Main Page

April 15, 2009

On Monday, the WTA computer (which I imagine is a warehouse-sized hulk that would put WarGames' WOPR to shame) will spit out the fact that Dinara Safina is the #1 player in the world.

Reading that, you have one of four reactions. Happiness for the Russian, rage for Serena Williams, apathy over a tour that seems to be spitting out #1's like a popcorn machine, or a longing to hear an 80's computerized voice inquire "Shall we play a game?"

If I were to cut it up like a pie, rage seems to amount to about 85% of it (plus the coffee and the a la mode). And it's not just coming from fans of Serena. It's coming from anyone who can't understand how a woman who won the last two Slams and finished runner up in the one before that could be anywhere else but in pole position. 

New #1, Dinara Safina is sticking her tongue
out at all the naysayers.

Let's break it down. While they're far from the shabbiest titles to have, Serena really only has two: the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. She was runner up at Wimbledon and, recently, Miami. Dinara finished runner up at the French Open, the Australian Open and the Olympics, along with Sydney and s'Hertogenbosch. Plus she has three Tier I titles (Berlin, Montreal, Tokyo) and a Tier II (Los Angeles). Serena's inability to defend her only other title this week in Charleston causes those points to slide off, enabling Dinara to slide into the top spot.

You're looking at these accomplishments and you're still saying, SAFINA HAS NOT WON A SLAM. SERENA WON TWO. You're also thinking, if someone's going to inherit the top spot, shouldn't it be the chick who won Wimbledon AND the YEC, not to mention Zurich, Dubai and Acapulco? Where is Venus Williams? You'll find her languishing at #5.


WOPR, er...the WTA computer...calculates the top spot based on the last 52 weeks, not just the most important 8. Meaning it awards consistency week in and week out over grand (slam) gestures. Something the Williams sisters are improving on without a doubt. But they're still marching to their own scheduling drummer. 

Which leads me to my point. You can't congratulate these women on being such expert schedulers, saving their bodies from the wear and tear of the daily grind, and then cry foul when they don't get all the points needed to top the charts. They chose majors over major rankings, assuming one would take care of the other. And they do, generally. Unless you're having one crazy lopsided year. Enter Serena.

Unlike Justine Henin, who rode a mere 15 titles to unrivaled #1 in 2007, Serena's dip to #2 demonstrates more than anything what a bizarre 12 months she's had. She literally played the big points well without playing any of the other points, all.

Are Serena and Venus Williams the two best players on tour? Yes. Demonstrated by the fact that no one else on tour can tear a page from their playbook and play so sparingly. But rankings aren't just about majors won, they're about matches won. Every other woman has to be out there racking up the W's in godforsaken countries where they don't even have basic necessities like 24-hour room service or Jacuzzi bathtubs. The Williams sisters should have to too if they want that #1 ranking. And they know that. Sure, Serena made mention of the weirdness of it all after needing to beat Venus in Miami to hold Safina at bay for a few more weeks. But when it comes to outright complaining, they're not the ones doing it. The rest of us are.

Well, there is one player grumbling. In acknowledging her rise to #1, Safina issued a statement saying "There‚Äôs no question that while I am very proud of my results over the past year, I would have liked to reach this achievement in a different manner. I hope to prove to everyone over the coming months that I merit the honor of being world No. 1."

Let me be the first to congratulate you, Dinara, and to tell you to shut your trap. You want your Slam. We get it. But you don't need to apologize for your accomplishment or qualify your success (just ask Jelena). You earned this, and you did so based on your last 52 weeks, not 'the coming months.' Whether or not we think the system needs to be tweaked, the fact is it is a numbers game and, specifically by owning the summer of '08 when you were without question the best player on tour, this honor is yours for the celebrating.

All that said, you better pop that cork real quick. With all the points you've got to defend and all the problems you're having reconjuring that summer of '08, what you slid into you're surely going to slide right out of (certainly under the 9 weeks big bro spent at #1). And to the tennis world's supreme relief, it'll be a Slam winning Williams who'll be waiting. But which one?