Written by Staff Writer, CNN
Finally, a female tennis player surpasses Novak Djokovic as the world’s number one in the rankings.
Serena Williams’s incredible exploits in 2017 have seen her leapfrog both the number one ranking she last held in 2011 and Roger Federer , who reclaimed the top spot in April after Djokovic slipped out of the top spot following a poor run of form.
Even if Federer doesn’t regain his number one ranking this year, he remains comfortably the highest-ranked Swiss.
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Despite retaining both the highest rankings and the best gender balance, tennis seems to be lagging in all other dimensions. It does not even come close to the ideal set by tennis’ governing body.
In 2011, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) commissioned Dr. Joshua Friedman, a research fellow at the University of Southampton in England, to draw up a set of “gender playing standards,” developed by the ITC working group on tennis equality.
Since then, he has found that only one gender, men, is considered to have a “baseline of excellence.” While the baseline has always been the agreed baseline, to reach that standard requires perfect stats across all player areas, such as win-loss percentage, groundstroke return percentage, first serve percentage, unforced errors, court coverage and return of serve.
In a statement accompanying the report, Dr. Friedman noted that the imbalance in current rankings is “not a product of sport science,” but “society.”
Overlooked as the game’s dominant force in 2013, Djokovic was expected to claim the top spot by now — a prestige that is only now to be shared by a woman.
Watch out for the players ascending this year
Only a few players in the sport’s history have been able to successfully cross gender boundaries. Three female players have had the best years on the court in the last 20 years: the late Monica Seles (four-time champion in 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002), Martina Hingis (four-time champion in 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005) and Justine Henin (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008).
At the conclusion of 2015, Caroline Wozniacki was ranked sixth in the world by comparison with Maria Sharapova’s 18th. Since then, Sharapova has served a fifteen-month doping ban.
Tennis has the lowest number of female players in the top 100 of any men’s sport. The women’s number one spot is occupied by Serena Williams with Serb Simona Halep, the number two player in the world, a close second.
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Nor is it easy to become a star. Only five times has a player risen to number one without winning a grand slam title, the last of which was Martina Hingis in 1998. It’s worth noting that Wozniacki, Halep and Halep have won two, two and three grand slams respectively this year alone.
Many women’s tennis fans have joined the arguments calling for greater equality in the sport. Today, it was strongly reported in the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, that a “hardline” rule by the ITF forbidding any player to wear shorts or shirts that might be an insufficiently covered skirt/short cut would inhibit some players from playing (scandals at the 2015 US Open led to players being forced to wear skirts).
Other low scores on the Gender Terence.com Men’s and Women’s Rankings scorecard
In 2015, Indian tennis player Svetlana Kuznetsova remarked that she had been ranked number one in the world for less than two weeks. This was because of a rule “making it mandatory for players to cover up their legs with their shorts when on the court.”
In 2015, French tennis player Alize Cornet complained that rules enforced by the ITF that stated that no woman player could wear shorts less than a meter wide were intended to upset women players. It now seems clear that this measure should also be changed.
It is difficult to understand the logic behind the current ITF rules. Because of the wide difference in court coverage and uniformity on court, to add even the slightest gap to the top two rankings could have a very significant impact on players’ morale and could cause them to lose focus and inspiration on the court.