SmashTalk: the battle for No.1

Published by Tennismash

World No.1 is up for grabs on both the men’s and women’s tours in the coming weeks, with the top ranking set to ricochet between players. What does that mean for the game?

So Roger Federer returned to No.1 last week in Rotterdam. And Caroline Wozniacki held on to top spot, just, by virtue of her semifinal finish in Doha.

What could unfold in the coming weeks is a battle for top spot between Federer and Rafael Nadal – who could return to No.1 with good results at Indian Wells and Miami – and Wozniacki and Simona Halep, who is currently snapping at the Dane’s heels just 45 points behind at No.2.

It sets the stage for an exciting couple of weeks on the ATP and WTA tours, and our editorial team of Piers Newbery, Vivienne Christie, Matt Trollope and Leigh Rogers give their thoughts on what it all means.

What do you think? Have your say on Facebook and Twitter using #SmashTalk.

The No.1 ranking is set to change hands regularly between players on both the ATP and WTA tours in coming weeks/months. What do you make of this evolving, ongoing battle for top spot?

Newbery: With Marin Cilic around 5,000 points back in third place, there is no end in sight to the ATP battle between Federer and Nadal which began an incredible 13 years ago. Now that Federer has reclaimed top spot after a six-year gap, that box is ticked, and both men are likely to be much more focused on getting their hands on more major trophies. Only Elina Svitolina of the top five has yet to reach the WTA summit, and again the interest is more likely to centre on titles than rankings, and whether Simona Halep can finally win a slam, or Caroline Wozniacki can quickly double up.

Christie: While bringing a new depth of quality to both the men’s and women’s tours, that intriguing battle is bringing new fans too. Consider how the quest to regain No.1 saw Roger Federer compete before record crowds in Rotterdam. And I’d venture the interest in women’s tennis spiked with the standard Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep set in the Australian Open women’s final. So long as they’re motivated by top spot, those players will continue to bring out the best in each other and that’s a win for the sport generally.

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Trollope: I think it’s great. I love the battle that could unfold between Roger and Rafa gunning for top spot – it puts pressure on Federer to defend his titles at Indian Wells and Miami, but then that pressure switches back to Nadal during the claycourt swing, where the Spaniard is defending a swag of points. And that could influence Federer’s claycourt schedule – he only has points to gain. Also exciting is the battle for No.1 between Caroline Woznaicki and Simona Halep, reminiscent of when Hingis and Davenport regularly traded the WTA top ranking in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Rogers: I love it. It creates an ongoing narrative that adds excitement and anticipation, which is great for the sport. I don’t understand the argument that it detracts from the prestige of the No.1 position either – why shouldn’t the battle to be the world’s best player be close?

Have the women been outshining the men so far in 2018 in terms of storylines, compelling matches and the overall level of tennis?

Newbery: If we’re talking storylines, plural, then definitely. The Federer resurgence is hard to top, but if sport is about uncertainty of outcome then the women have consistently delivered. Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki provided more entertainment in their matches alone at the Australian Open than many Grand Slams manage, and since then Petra Kvitova’s spectacular winning streak has caught the imagination. And next up, the return of Serena…

Christie: Does one record-breaking Roger Federer equal several evenly-credentialled players at the top of the women’s game? There’s your answer. I love the edge-of-the-seat battles we’ve seen from the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber but have equally relished the history Federer is creating. In some ways, the narratives are too different to fairly compare them.

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Trollope: Absolutely. Had it not been for Roger Federer’s enduring brilliance, the first two months of the ATP season – save for Alex De Minaur’s thrilling run in Australia – would have been largely forgettable. The women’s season, however, has so far been fantastic. The level of tennis and match-ups at the Australian Open was spectacular and it’s been heartening – finally! – to see stars like Wozniacki, Halep, Kerber and Kvitova be consistently great.

Rogers: Yes. It is an exciting time in women’s tennis. They are producing high-quality matches (as the final rounds of the Australian Open highlighted), more extraordinary storylines, greater unpredictability and definitely showcasing the sport in the most positive manner on the world stage right now.

What milestone do you see Roger Federer achieving next?

Newbery: A Nobel prize? It’s surely only a matter of time. On the tennis court, it’s hard to make the case for anyone preventing Federer from winning a ninth Wimbledon title in July, and if he can then stay fit for just a few more matches this year than last, he can add a first US Open title for 10 years. Despite his age-defying achievements, Federer’s body did just let him down by the latter stages in New York and he will probably skip the claycourt season again to stay fresh, so I’m ruling out the calendar slam. I think.

Christie: How far-fetched is it to suggest that the 36-year-old RF, with 97 titles, will eventually surpass Jimmy Connors’ record 109 singles wins? Very. But I recall telling myself, at around this time last year, how ridiculous it was to consider that Federer could return to world No.1 and hit 100 titles. Now here we are with the first achieved and the latter within reach. Look out Jimmy, Roger is coming.

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Trollope: I think 100 ATP titles is achievable. He only needs three more, and could easily win one of the spring hardcourt events in March. Assuming he’s not especially prolific on clay, that would set the stage nicely on grass. Imagine his 100th title being his 10th in Halle?

Rogers: Poor Roger. He’s just become the oldest world No.1 and we’re already putting pressure on him to break another record. What’s wrong with simply enjoying watching him play this well and celebrating what he has already achieved?

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