Simona’s #1 Quest

Simona Halep is the 25th WTA player to become world number one. A simple thing for me to write and for you to read, but the journey to get there was anything but simple. Let me take you on Simona’s quest to become the top player in the world.

When most kids pick up a tennis racquet they dream of becoming the best. That dream comes true for very few of those kids. There’s the dream and then there’s reality. Can you actually be the best? Do you have the talent? Do you have what it takes mentally? Will luck fall your way? It takes a lot to become the best.

Serena

Serena points to her mom and asks Simona for a photo with the future #1.

So when did we realistically think Simona could become the best? She burst onto the scene in 2013 by winning six titles, including the tournament of champions. The reality of #1 probably didn’t surface until 2014 though. That’s when she first broke into the top 10 at the Australian Open. A few months later in Indian Wells, she was into the top 5. On August 11th she became the #2 player in the world after Li Na withdrew from Rogers Cup. That’s probably when the dream began. Then at the WTA Finals a few months later, she beat Serena 6-0, 6-2 in round robin. It was a breakout tournament for her to show she could beat the best. She later lost in the final to Serena. During the trophy ceremony Serena told Simona she wanted to get a picture with the future #1 player in the world.

“Serena told me on the podium that she wants to take a picture with the future world number one and that her mother was taking the picture. I liked very much what she said. Maybe this will happen one day, I can’t say now if it will, I really want to get there, but as I said, the ranking is not as important for me as it is to win many matches and many titles.”

So it appeared Simona had the talent and even the belief of one of the best players ever in Serena Williams, but it still didn’t feel like it was imminent with Serena Williams still on top of the game. She’d have to step up to a greater level or have Serena come down. Simona had some great results and stretches of play in 2015 and 2016, but she was not very close to #1 in points. Not until this year did she get within reach of #1 and that’s where we’ll start on her journey to #1.

Simona started the 2017 season poorly. Her knee that bothered her at the end of 2016 still hadn’t fully healed. Simona was forced to take some time off and miss Doha, Dubai, and a Fed Cup tie. As a fan, you think the worst. You don’t know the details. I was very worried how long this would take to fully heal if it didn’t during the offseason. Luckily it wasn’t any more of an issue, but it did set her back in points by having to miss those tournaments. We’ll see what impact this had later on.

Simona was back for Indian Wells and Miami and had modest results by reaching the 3rd round and quarterfinals respectively. Her coach, Darren Cahill, actually quit on her after she was very negative in her loss in Miami to Konta. Simona impressed Darren in a Fed Cup tie a few weeks later and he was back.

Now we were heading to the clay season. A part of the year Simona has performed well in past years. The problem was she had won Madrid the previous year. She was going to lose 1,000 points because the tournament was a week later this year. Her ranking would fall from #4 to #8. It was a worrying time because she was losing these points and had so many to defend during the upcoming summer. Her ranking would surely slip. Only it didn’t. Simona did the unthinkable and defended Madrid, picking up all the points she’d lost from the technicality of the tournament being played a week later this year. She didn’t stop there. She made it all the way to the final of Rome the following week. She was up 5-2 in the first set then rolled her ankle. It would put her Roland Garros hopes in jeopardy. She was the heavy favorite with her stellar play in Madrid and Rome. It seemed like it would be the time for her first major and #1. The ankle was a road block, but ultimately didn’t interfere in her quest. Roland Garros would be her first shot at #1.

Chance #1 at #1: Roland Garros

RG #1 Scenarios

Roland Garros #1 scenarios (Highlighted numbers represent totals the could be good enough to hold #1 after the tournament)

Above you’ll see the scenarios for #1 at Roland Garros. Three players were in the running for #1.

Kerber was in best position with Pliskova and Halep’s only chances being if they were in the finals.

Simona needed to make the final, have Kerber lose before SF’s, and Pliskova to lose before the final.

Plsikova had two options.

  1. She needed to make the final, have Kerber lose before the fourth round, and needed Halep not to win the title
  2. She needed to win the tournament and Kerber to lose before the final

One other thing I’d like to mention about Pliskova is her Nottingham title points from 2016 came off during Roland Garros, as well as her 2016 Roland Garros points. If Nottingham points didn’t come off, it wouldn’t have changed her position. She still would’ve needed to make the final. Semifinals wouldn’t have been good enough.

I pinpointed Roland Garros as a big chance for Simona. I really believed she could win the tournament. Looking at these scenarios, you’d think there’d be little chance. She would need to win the tournament and have a top player lose relatively early. The thing is, Kerber was in such poor form that making the semifinals seemed like a huge stretch. Simona just needed that loss from Kerber to control her own destiny. She was going into Roland Garros as the heavy favrotie due to her play in Madrid and Rome. Winning her first major and becoming #1 seemed doable at Roland Garros. Most importantly, she had a chance.

Kerber lost in the first round to Makarova. It was now in Simona’s control.

Pliskova had a couple tough three setters in the first few rounds, but prevailed in both. Simona was in deep trouble in the quarterfinals against Svitolina. She was down a set and 1-5 in the second set. Simona leveled up the match at 5-5 and saved a match point in the tiebreak before winning the tiebreak a couple points later. The third set was a bagel. The match was set. Simona vs Karolina. A win would make Karolina number one in the world.

As a Simona fan, it was a very emotional match. We had all the pressure. Pliskova had nothing to lose. She was talking about how she hated clay in her press conferences. We’d dominated the clay season and been to the Roland Garros final before. Also, the head to head was in Simona’s favor.

I remember watching the third set during my lunch break from work at my grandma’s house. Pliskova was hitting so big. Simona was running everything down and giving it her all. Simona had a 4-1 lead and looked to be into the final. Then Pliskova got the break and served to level up the match. Simona broke back though and held to prevent Pliskova from becoming #1. It would be Simona’s chance for #1. It had been such a long time since Simona made a major final and it was such a tough battle. I just remember being so happy and proud. The following tweets show what the match meant to me.

In the final, Simona would play Jelena Ostapenko. Ostapenko had never won a title before and was the 47th ranked player in the world. Not what you would call a bad draw. Simona won the first set by breaking Ostapenko at 5-4. She started the second set quickly and was up 3-0. She had three break points for 4-0, but didn’t convert. She would lose the next four games. Then she broke for 4-4. Two games away. She would lose the next seven points and the set, 4-6. Third set 3-3, break point. Ostapenko hits a ball that’s going well wide. It hits the net and lands in. That was it. Simona lost 6-4, 4-6, 3-6. #1 would have to wait. It was devastating. Two big dreams right in front of you. Now we had to continue to wait for them. Simona was 185 points short of #1.

Eastbourne

Kerber, Pliskova, and Simona each only played Eastbourne as a warm up for Wimbledon. Simona could’ve had a chance at #1 if she’d play in the first two weeks of grass season, but she needed rest after playing so much on clay.  She withdrew from Birmingham, as did Kerber and Pliskova.

EB #!

Eastbourne #1 scenarios. Both players had byes in round one.

Pliskova was defending finalist points, so she couldn’t gain enough points to become #1 at this tournament. 

Simona had two options for #1.

  1. Simona needed to at least make the finals and have Kerber lose before the semifinals
  2. Simona needed to win the title and have Kerber lose before the final.

Rain was a problem in Eastbourne. The players would have to potentially play two matches in one day: quarterfinals and semifinals. Simona played Wozniacki. She was up a set and 4-3, but lost the next three games and then the third set, 1-6. Kerber lost to Konta in the quarterfinals a couple hours later. Had Simona beat Wozniacki, she would’ve played Watson for #1 later in the day.

People have gotten confused about Eastbourne thinking Simona was one match away. I don’t know if it’s because they had to play two matches that day, but Simona didn’t beat Wozniacki, so she never became one match away. Had she beat Wozniacki, then yes, she would’ve been one match away with Kerber losing in the quarterfinals, but she didn’t win. She ended up being two wins away.

Pliskova went on to win Eastbourne. While she couldn’t become #1 in Eastbourne, it would improve her position in the weeks to come.

Chance #2 at #1: Wimbledon

Pliskova went into Wimbledon in the best position to claim the #1 ranking. She had the least amount of points to defend by having the worst result at Wimbledon in 2016. She lost in the second round. Kerber made the final. Halep made the quarterfinals.

Pliskova lost the earliest of the three by losing in the second round to Magdelena Rybarikova. Kerber lost in the fourth round to eventual champion Garbine Muguruza. That cleared the way for Simona. She needed to make the semifinals to become #1.

Simona made the quarterfinals without dropping a set. She defeated Azarenka and Peng in close matches. She was one win away from #1 for a second time. Her opponent would be Johanna Konta. Konta is a British player and would have the home crowd on her side. Simona won the first set in a tiebreak by winning the final four points. There were no breaks of serve in the second set. Simona saved four break points in the set. A tiebreak would decide the set. Simona got a mini break from Konta to take a 5-4 lead. She was two points away and serving for the #1 ranking. The 5-4 lead with two serves in a tiebreak is one of those situations I always recognize when it arises. You now have this little advantage deep in the set. The set is on your racquet, but you also have all the pressure. There’s no wiggle room. You have two points to finish it. Can you come up with your best tennis at the most important time? Konta was the one who was able to this time. In a match dominated by the server, Konta won both points on Simona’s serve and converted her set point with a big backhand. We would go to a third set.

I just remember tuning in for the tiebreak at work. When Simona lost it, I was rattled. Very intense. Probably the most intense I’ve ever been watching Simona play. #1 was within grasp. Now it was so far away. I immediately left work to go to lunch. I watched the entire third set at my grandma’s house. I made sure to watch in a room I could be alone. The match meant everything to me and I needed to be by myself after what happened in the second set. Simona had a break chance early in the third set, but didn’t convert. Konta held in the longest game of the set. From that point, Konta dominated on serve. Simona didn’t get any looks on return and threw in a clunker serve game. It was all Konta needed. #1 would have to wait again. All I could muster was this:

Remember how I talked about tournaments being a week later this year? This was where it came to bite Simona.

This was after her fourth round match when she defeated Azarenka. Pliskova was at 6,855 points. Simona was at 6,670. A difference of 185 points. Simona won Bucharest in 2016 and earned 280 points. With Bucharest points, Simona would’ve had 6,920 points following Wimbledon, becoming #1 by 65 points. 65 points and not 95 points because her weakest result, Shenzhen, where she earned 30 points, would come off her ranking. Your best 16 results count towards the ranking. Simona would’ve had 17 results, so the weakest would come off. To explain this another way, Simona came into Wimbledon with 6,920 points, she left with 6,670. A difference of 250. That difference being the Bucharest 280 and Shenzhen 30. In other words, she would’ve left Wimbledon with the same number of points she came with: 6,920.

So why did this happen? The Olympics in 2016. The WTA calendar needed to be adjusted so Olympics could fit. This moved some tournaments earlier and later than normal in 2016. In 2017, with no Olympics, tournaments went back to their normal week(s). Wimbledon was a week later in 2017 than 2016, thus Bucharest was played a week later as well. It’s a 52 week ranking system, so the points were dropped before the tournament was played, giving a player no chance at defending them.

It’s a big pet peeve of mine. If there’s only a week difference and a player can’t defend their points, they shouldn’t lose the points based on a week technicality. It should be like all other normal tournaments. You lose your points from last year and gain the points you earn this year all in the same week. A player should be given the opportunity to defend their points. Now one of the WTA tournaments isn’t represented in their rankings for a given week. Doesn’t seem like something the WTA should want. It may not seem like a big deal, but situations like Simona’s arise where it does matter. A great deal. It cost her becoming #1 in the world.

Okay, end rant. Onto the summer hard court season in US and Canada.

DC/Toronto

On the outlook, Simona’s chance seemed to be Cincy. She won Rogers Cup in 2016, so she couldn’t gain points until Cincy. Her Rogers Cup title points from 2016 would come off a few weeks before the tournament was played in 2017. Pliskova’s Cincy title points wouldn’t come off until the week Cincy was played, so Simona wouldn’t get any advantage from the week difference in schedule.

Simona took a wildcard into Washington DC. #1 couldn’t be achieved at the tournament, but she could better her position with a good result. By making the finals, #1 would be on line in Toronto. Unfortunately she had to retire in the quarterfinals due to the heat. Simona made the semifinals in Toronto, losing to the eventual champion, Elina Svitolina.

Chance #3 at #1: Cincy

Cincy #1 Scenarios

Cincy #1 scenarios. All players had byes in round one.

Cincy provided an interesting opportunity. I would witness Simona going for #1 in person.

Kerber lost the earliest of the #1 contenders. In her first match against Makarova in a third set tiebreak, 11-13. Svitolina was next with a loss in the third round to Julia Goerges, her first and only loss at a Premier 5 tournament in 2017. Wozniacki lost to Pliskova in the quarterfinals. I was at that match and was rooting for Caroline, so Simona could get #1 with just a finals appearance. Pliskova would lose in the next round (semifinals) to Muguruza though. Simona needed to win the title. I thought Simona probably had a better chance against Pliskova, but I didn’t want to have a rooting interest. If Simona then lost to Pliskova I would regret it. I thought Muguruza looked good though. Crushing the ball. It’s hard to know what would happen against Simona though, since they hadn’t played recently. Simona put together her best match of the tournament in the semifinals. She defeated Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1. I was so happy to have the chance to see her in another final and go for #1. It was her third time being one match away from #1. This time just five points back.

I watched Simona’s practice before the final. I was surprised she chose an outside court, rather than center, where the match would be played. That’s where she practiced before the 2015 final in Cincy. It wasn’t too long of a practice. Maybe a half hour. I heard one of her team members tell a photographer how it was going to be really hot for the players. He must’ve been worried after what transpired in Washington DC. As for the practice, I didn’t think she looked to be playing all that great, but it’s hard to get an impression from a practice. The match can go very differently. This time though the way practice went might’ve been telling. The match wasn’t close. Simona managed just a single game early in the match. She just could never get into it. Also, you kind of feel like you have to do more in that position, so you take on more risk. It wasn’t Simona’s day. At least it wasn’t painfully close like the last two times, but it was in terms of points. Just five points back of Pliskova. Closest you can possibly be.

I don’t know how I would’ve reacted if I was actually there to see her become #1. It’s an emotional thing. I probably would’ve felt like I had to keep it in with thousands of people around. Probably for the best that it didn’t happen, but it was great to be around the team and see them before such a big match. Would’ve been cool to see her interview with ESPN after and see her on the champions balcony had she won. Hopefully she will win the trophy in the coming years.

US Open

 

All the past tournament tables with #1 scenarios up to this point have shown Simona chasing the ranking, needing a great result to get there. As you can see, Simona is listed first on this table. She had the most points going into the US Open and was in the best position to claim the #1 ranking. In all the other tables up to this point, the player in the top position at the start of the tournament ended up being #1 at the end of the tournament. With the way #1 had gone for Simona up to this point, why would anything play out how it was supposed to?

Of course the unthinkable had to take place. Simona draws Maria Sharapova in the first round. Nightmare. Roland Garros and Wimbledon wouldn’t give Maria a wildcard after her suspension, but the US Open did, controversially. Simona was 0-6 in her career against Sharapova. Some of those were very close too. I was at the match in Cincy in 2014. I can say I’ve never left a match more dissatisfied. Simona was up a set and had 2-0 leads in the second and third sets. A controversial line call cost Simona a point when Maria served for the match. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt Simona should’ve won the match. I’ve wanted Simona to beat Maria ever since that day. After seeing Maria’s struggles when she came from suspension back earlier in the year, I sensed Simona could do it, and kind of hoped to play Maria. But not now. Not when Simona was in her best position to become #1. Not at the major she had her best record at. Anytime but now.

Night session, under the lights. Maria came into the match with an 18-0 record in US Open night session matches. Maria had everything to play for. It’d be the biggest stage she’d been on since her return to tour. Maria played like it too. She’d beat Simona in three sets. Simona staged a comeback in the second set to force a third set. Simona faced break points in ten consecutive service games spanning from the first set to the third set. After she was broken in her first service game in the third set, she didn’t face another break point, but it just took that one. Simona had a break point when Maria served for the match and hit a forehand in the net from a strong position. Had she made it, she probably breaks. Her serve just wasn’t good enough on the night though. Darren Cahill, her coach, pointed to that being the difference the following day when he discussed the match on ESPN. Simona knew her serve wasn’t good enough either.

Now we had to wait to see how the others would do. Simona could still get to #1 if everyone else lost early enough.

Konta lost in the first round. Wozniacki and Kuznetsova lost in the second round. Svitolina lost in the fourth round. Muguruza also made the fourth round, eliminating Simona and Venus from #1 contention, but that’s as far as she went. Pliskova lost in the quarterfinals. Muguruza would be the new #1. Simona was 65 points short. Muguruza did just enough. Just how it always goes with Simona chasing #1. The last hurdle always making her stumble. 

I didn’t expect all those players to lose with #1 on the line. They’d been playing so well during the summer. I thought for sure one of them would win the US Open. I wouldn’t have expected to get the chance to become #1 by Muguruza losing so early. She was playing so well. She won Wimbledon and Cincy. Lost in Toronto to Svitolina in what was probably the match of the tournament. She was in such good form. It was surprising she lost when she did. It just added to the heartbreak. With that result from Muguruza, Simona would’ve just needed to win a couple matches to become #1. A reasonable task given a reasonable draw.

Of everything that happened up to this point in the chase for #1, the US Open was the most painful. After all the previous missed chances, now she had the best chance at the start of the tournament. This was a new position. It seemed like it was her time. Losing to a top player late in a tournament is one thing, but getting drawn one in the first round is gut wrenching. It’s like you never got a chance. Of all the times for this to happen too, it had to happen when she was in this position. It was difficult to accept. Then you see how the tournament goes and all the other top players flop. Any kind of a reasonable draw and she would’ve easily become #1. It just shows the importance of a draw. Some players get the luck and some don’t. The winner of the tournament, Sloane Stephens, was a player Simona played twice during the past few weeks and beat twice, losing nine games in four sets. Sloane got a wildcard just like Maria. I think if Simona gets Sloane in the first round, she wins. Sloane doesn’t win the tournament. Simona becomes #1. There’s the importance of a draw for you.

Wuhan

Simona didn’t play after the US Open until Wuhan. Muguruza played in Tokyo and started the tournament well. It seemed like she’d win the tournament and have a comfortable points lead, but instead she lost to Wozniacki. She extended her lead over Simona by 85 points.

In Wuhan, Simona was defending semifinal points, while Garbine wasn’t defending anything. Given those circumstances, it didn’t seem too likely Simona would get #1 in Wuhan.

Wuhan Scenarios

Wuhan #1 Scenarios (All players received byes in round one)

Simona got shocked in her first match by Darya Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1. Simona had previously won both meetings against Kasatkina. There was one close set in each match, but it didn’t seem like the kind of matchup that would trouble Simona all that much. This kind of a poor result lowered expectations going forward. Simona seemed to have lost form. Muguruza was keeping up her good play. She made the quarterfinals in Wuhan, losing to Ostapenko. Garbine kept #1 with Pliskova losing in the quarterfinals to Ash Barty.

Chance #4 at #1: Beijing

Beijing #1 Scenarios

Beijing #1 Scenarios

Expectations were at an all time low. Even the WTA didn’t post any news about #1 for the upcoming week, like they had been doing nearly weekly since Roland Garros. In her first match, Simona dropped a set to Alison Riske. Not the most promising start. Meanwhile, Muguruza had a viral illness and retired in the first round. This left the door open for Simona, Pliskova, and Svitolina. Simona’s opponent in the second round, Rybarikova, retired with a gastrointestinal illness. Simona’s next opponent was Sharapova. With #1 on the line, here comes our favorite foe, like always.

This match was very different than the one they played about a month earlier. Simona served well. All her serve statistics were up. The biggest being second serve points won. At the US Open, Simona won 38% of second serve points. In this match Simona was at 64%. Simona not only served well, she returned well. She got Maria moving and she was moving well herself. It all added up to Simona’s first win over Maria, 6-2, 6-2. It was a huge win for Simona after all the close battles they’ve had. It was definitely a confidence boosting win, but Kasatkina was awaiting in the next round. After the bad loss the previous week, there was still some uncertainly. After a big win, sometimes there’s a let down. We definitely weren’t looking past Kasatkina.

Simona backed up the Maria win by turning the tables on Kasatkina with the exact scoreline from the previous week, 6-2, 6-1. Meanwhile, Pliskova lost in the third round to Cirstea. Svitolina lost in the quarterfinals to Garcia. This put Simona one win away from #1 for a fourth time. Her opponent would be the player she first tried to become #1 against four months earlier at Roland Garros: Jelena Ostapenko.

We’d beaten two foes, but now here’s another. Ostapenko is so streaky that you can never be comfortable. We were up a set and 3-0 at Roland Garros. We’d never get comfortable in this match. Obviously you hope that this is the time, but still the feeling was that anything could happen. She stopped us from #1 before. She can do it again.

The match started really well. A break to love. Then another break at the end of the set in a long six deuce game. Simona then served out the set at love. One set away.

In the second set Simona got the break midway through. Three games away with a break in hand. But she gave the break right back. A couple games later provided another break opportunity. Ostapenko double faulted. Simona would serve for #1 at 5-4. She started it with a swinging forehand winner. A few points later she forced Ostapenko into an error. It was 40-0. Simona had three points to become #1. 

Simona hits a serve to Ostapenko’s forehand. Ostapenko returns it and generates a weak reply from Simona. Ostapenko punishes a forehand to Simona’s backhand and takes a step to return to the middle of the court. Simona takes her backhand down the line and catches Ostapenko out of position. Ostapenko scrambles to hit a crosscourt forehand. Simona gets to it and goes down the line again. Ostapenko watches it go by. Simona had won. Simona was #1 in the world.

It finally happened. After just about every scenario imaginable took place to prevent Simona from becoming #1. Now nothing could prevent it. Simona had done it. What a joy it was to watch her celebrate on the court with a big smile on her face. I never really thought about what would happen if she reached #1. I just wanted to get there. I never expected such an amazing ceremony would take place. China is always fun like that. An interview takes place and they tell Simona to look at the screen. A video made by the WTA is played with some of her highlights, as well as congratulating her on becoming #1. Minutes later she receives flowers in the shape of a big number one and poses for pictures. I certainly wasn’t expecting all that. It just added to the moment and made it more special.

Two players became #1 from the time Simona first tried to become #1 to when she claimed it. Pliskova was a set away at Roland Garros, but it never really alluded her. She didn’t expect to play well on clay. She was looking forward to not having to play on the surface again. Then she claimed the #1 ranking away from the court. When Simona lost to Konta, Pliskova wasn’t in sight of the public. Same with Muguruza. When Pliskova lost at the US Open, Muguruza became #1. Again, out of the public eye having already lost. Muguruza never really had the ranking allude her either. This was the first time she was going for it. She never played a single match where if she won she would be #1. Simona had that opportunity four times. Getting #1 is difficult and special, but the way Simona got there was much more special and difficult than Muguruza or Pliskova.

Getting to #1 was painful in just about every way. But would I prefer Muguruza or Pliskova’s easier path? Absolutely not. I didn’t need to go through four months worth of emotions to get there, but being in all those situations just made it even more special when Simona achieved #1.

The way Simona won the match point was special too. There wasn’t any doubt. Simona hit a winner. When Muguruza won her majors, there was uncertainty. She didn’t know her lob fell in against Serena. She had to challenge a ball in the middle of a rally against Venus. Being able to initially react the exact moment you win makes it more emotional. You’re in the middle of a tight rally. It could go either way. Then you win it with a winner or an obvious error. It gets all the emotions because the pressure is still high. When you have to wait a few seconds, it takes some of that away.

What made Simona becoming #1 the most special though was that she won to do it. She wasn’t watching on TV somewhere when someone else lost. She was on the court making it happen herself. We got to see her emotions as she became #1. Fans didn’t get to see that with Pliskova or Muguruza. 

After she lost in Wuhan, Simona was asked about #1. She said, “no more. I don’t believe that is going to happen this year… It’s gone.” As a fan, I thought the same. Maybe next year, but after a loss like that, it’s not going to happen this year. Expectations were at an all time low. There’s a saying that goes, “it happens when you least expect it.” That was the case for Simona. Every time we thought she had it, she didn’t. Then she plays three opponents she lost to this year and beats them all handily to reach #1. Not many expected that. But then again nothing went as expected the whole time Simona went for #1.

Lastly I just wanted to show some charts I made representing the WTA rankings while Simona was chasing #1.

Simona #1 Chase

This chart shows how many points Simona and the world #1 had for the weeks of March 27th (that’s as far back as WTA’s website would allow) to October 9th. It also shows how many points shy she was each week. I included notes on how close she got for some weeks. If not for the Rogers Cup points coming off a week early, she would’ve been within 200 points of #1 for three months.

Weekly Top 8

This chart shows the Top 8 each week from April 3rd to October 9th. The weeks Muguruza was out of the top 8 are also included. Simona, Pliskova, and Muguruza’s names are highlighted so you can easily distinguish them and see their paths to #1.

People joked with Simona about how #1 may change, but they know she is #2. Here we can see it. 15 straight weeks at #2. Three different players were #1 in that time. Amazing. But also, look at how Simona dropped to #8 when her Madrid points came off. It may’ve only been for a week, but it was a troubling time. We didn’t know if she could get back up the rankings that fast.

Tournaments Played

This chart shows the number of tournaments these players played. All #1’s are included, as well as some other consistent top 10 players during that time. Orange highlights indicate the player that was #1. Kerber and Serena’s number of tournaments were omitted for some weeks in which they were out of the running for #1.

Remember when I mentioned earlier about Simona missing Doha and Dubai? This is where it shows up. Simona only had 16-18 tournaments on her ranking each week listed on the chart. Only Serena had less tournaments, but Serena never competed with Simona for #1. The players Simona competed with all played more tournaments than her. Only 16 tournaments plus WTA Finals, for a total of 17 tournaments, count for the rankings. Your other results get dropped. For many weeks, Simona didn’t have that luxury of dropping her worst result. The others did. They also had more chances to get better results. We saw in one of the charts that Simona was within 200 points for many weeks. If not for her injury, Simona could’ve played more, earned more points, and become #1 faster. One of the tournaments she missed with injury was a Premier 5. As a top player with a first round bye, all you need to do is win two matches and you earn 190 points. If not for her injury, Simona would’ve been #1 faster.

As you can see, Simona’s path to #1 wasn’t as easy as it was to write she is the #1 player in the world. She stepped on the court one win away three times before becoming #1. Ranking technicalities got in the way too with tournament points coming off a week earlier than tournaments were played. Simona played less than all the other top players as well due to injury. She got dealt nightmare draws. Got as close as 5 points away. All of this taking place over a four month stretch. Sure she could’ve been #1 sooner if not for many factors, but that’s not what happened. Her path wasn’t perfect. It was painful and emotional. It didn’t matter how she got there, just that she did. On October 9th, Simona Halep was listed as the #1 player in the world on the WTA rankings. 

 

I compiled my tweets from all the times Simona was going for #1 in this moment on Twitter. Check that out too if you’d like. 

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