For better or worse? All change at No.1

Published by Paul Moore

Serena and Angie played out some tough battles in 2016. Photo: Getty Images
With Serena Williams withdrawing from Indian Wells Angelique Kerber will be No.1 again. But is she, on current form, the best tennis player in the world?

…and switch. It’s all change at the top of the women’s game yet again, but something about it doesn’t feel ‘right’ this time.

The WTA No.1 has changed hands three times in the last six months. First, Angelique Kerber took the top spot off Serena following a dazzling run to her maiden US Open title. Serena took it back in January, when she made history with her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. Now it’s Kerber’s turn to once again take the seat on the top of the tree.

This week, though, she did it without hitting a ball.

By virtue of the fact that she did so badly at Indian Wells in 2016 (going out in the second round), Kerber had just ten points to defend in the desert this week. Serena, on the other hand, had 650 points to defend after losing to Azarenka in last year’s final. The American’s withdrawal means that she forfeits those points, and Angelique Kerber will be No.1 at the end of the tournament regardless of her results.

The mathematical calculation behind the change in world No.1 is bullet proof. Unfortunately, the player who has assumed the top spot is anything but.

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Nobody is suggesting that Kerber didn’t earn her place at the top of women’s tennis; in 2016 she was simply sublime. The German won two Slams, an Olympic silver medal and was a finalist at most of the tournaments that she entered. She was flying very high, and the tennis world celebrated her achievements.

But Kerber has come crashing back to earth in 2017. The defence of her Australian Open crown stuttered uncomfortably before stalling completely. She was a no-show in the Fed Cup. Doha was a disaster. And Dubai… well Dubai was better, but she was swatted aside in the semifinals by eventual champion Elina Svitolina.

Mathematics aside, she doesn’t look like the best tennis player in the world right now.

Which leads to the inevitable question: who is?

It’s hard to argue against Serena. But during this stint as No.1 the American did not play a single match. Plenty of pundits think that Karolina Pliskova is a possible successor to ‘Serena’s throne’, but the steely Czech has looked surprisingly shaky at times this season.

And then there’s… a void.

On current form, there is nobody else in the Top 10 who looks like they could mount a serious, sustained challenge for No.1. In fact, the only player who has the credentials to do so is currently absent from the game: Victoria Azarenka. That she will make a return to the women’s game following the birth of her first child seems likely. Whether she will be able to conjure up the form and intensity of days gone by remains to be seen.

Until she does, we may have to settle for a period of flux in women’s tennis. In all likelihood Serena won’t play enough events this year to guarantee an extended spell at the top. Kerber might drift in and out of No.1 until the points from the US Open fall away. And Pliskova will need to find some elusive consistency if she is to make up the 2000 points she currently trails the top two by.

It’s a bumpy road ahead, and things may not ‘sit’ right at the top of the WTA tree for a long time to come.

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