Wednesday 27 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 3

Ana Ivanovic (RS) bt. Maria Martinez Sanchez (E) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
Tamira Paszek (A) bt. Caroline Wozniacki (DK) 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-4

Everyone in the world has been the number 1 ranked women's singles tennis player at some time or another. My mum, two of my aunts, a nanny goat, Kirsty Wark, Sister Wendy, Zoe Ball, a fish and Mary Magdalen. If you're a woman reading this yet to have had your week in the sun, never fear, it is coming.

Being adept at tennis has been very much a secondary concern on the women's tour in the last 10 years. Regular attendance has been the key. In recent years, everyone on Earth has been fully aware that Serena Williams is the best female tennis player out there, but she is 30 years old now, a multi-millionaire and 27-time Grand Slam tournament champion, as well as a budding fashion designer. The appeal of travelling round the world playing tennis every week has diminished somewhat.

This is where tennis rankings fall down. Points are awarded for excellence, yes - but sustained and consistent excellence. Play well at Wimbledon one year and you sure as hell better be back the next to do just as well or better. In a way it makes sense, for the big tournaments at least. But ranking points are accrued all year round, in every tuppenny ha'penny tin pot shagfest jamboree held on a pocked field in Rhyl, marked out with string and dog turds, as well as at the All-England Club SW19. This has led to a situation where few of the world's number 1 ranked female players of recent years had ever won anything of any note at all. In the past decade, Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki have all been at the top of the tree without having won a Grand Slam singles title. Of those five, the latter three are still yet to break their duck. Dinara Safina has since given up the unequal struggle and retired. Wozniacki's second, 49-week (67 weeks in all), reign as number 1 was only ended in January this year when Victoria Azarenka won the Australian Open. She in turn was headed by Maria Sharapova after the Russian won the French Open earlier this month.

It's a bold and brave new world, but no doubt a fragile one. Fail to add a second Wimbledon to her trophy cabinet in 10 days time and you can bet that Sharapova's position will again be coming under threat from Jeanette Winterson, Cilla Black or your mum.

In reality, its not that serious a situation at present. And unless your mum is Victoria Azarenka or Agnieszka Radwanska (another player without a Grand Slam title - or even semi-final - to her name thus far), she's unlikely to be troubling Sharapova any time soon. The overarching point is that this is a transitional period for the women's game, one screaming out for a new dominant figure to step up to the plate on a week-by-week, month-by-month basis. Not to swan in, win Roland Garros and then waltz off to design strides for George at Asda instead of playing Indian Wells, in other words.

Today saw former world number 1's Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic in action, with only the latter prevailing. The lack of any dominant figure at the top of the women's game is good in a way, as it makes for unpredictable tournaments. The risk is, with everyone beating everyone else and consistent success notably absent, it also makes for perfect conditions for no-one to care one way or another who wins the tournaments. It's hard to have a match to make the roof of your mouth go dry with anticipation when you know the result is as likely to be decided by whose bowels hadn't moved yet today, as it is anything more permanent or tangible.

Any ranking system is always going to have these flaws, but women's tennis in the past decade has been particularly ill-served. My solution would be to have rings, like in Logan's Run. No-one gets to get to the top until they've won a Grand Slam, at which point your ring changes colour. No red ring, no number 1 ranking. Obviously, the imperfection of this system is that as soon as you got to the age of 30 you'd be killed and your body used to mulch the roses, but I'm still not entirely convinced this does not already happen on the professional tennis circuit.

Family box man update

With the Centre Court roof coming into use for the first time in this year's tournament, it's been prime Family Box Man spotting conditions. He doesn't disappoint. Or move from that seat, seemingly. Who is it? Who? I need to know.

My current working hypothesis is that it's an ongoing performance art project.

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