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Part 1: Comparison of the five slamless WTA No.1s and the origin of the phenomenon

Omair, our stats expert, is using numbers to clarify our never-ending debates. This time he will examine the emergence of players who reached the top of the WTA rankings without winning a Grand Slam - Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki – and closer investigate their performance in the years they became number ones. Part 2, to be publish next week, will look into the slamless No.1 years of players that had crowned their careers with major titles. You'll see, it's a revealing perspective!

A lot of debate has been going on over the last few years regarding the coveted world No.1 spot in the WTA rankings. Issues have been raised that the WTA ranking system is flawed, that the player must win a Grand Slam before she gets to the top. Is the WTA ranking system really flawed? And is it mandatory for a player to be a Grand Slam winner before she attains No.1 in the rankings? If yes, then why? And if no, then why has the hype been created?

These are the questions that will be debated on forever. As for me, being the best player in the world does not mean that you have to win all the tournaments or you have to win some specific events. For me, the best player in the world is the one who has been the most consistent throughout the year. You should not be ranked the best player in the world if you win all the four majors and do poorly the rest of the year. A player doing well in all the tournaments has all the right to be the best player in the world. How do you define the best player? What is your opinion on who should be the world No.1 player?

THE BEGINNINGS OF "SLAMLESS NUMBER ONES": WHO WAS THE FIRST AND WHEN WAS THE TERM COINED?

The term "slamless No.1" first appeared in August 2003 when Kim Clijsters became the first Belgian ever (man or woman) to be ranked world No.1. During that stellar season, Clijsters compiled a 90–12 singles record. Her singles win total was the highest single-season total by any woman since Martina Navratilova in 1982. Clijsters was also the first woman to play more than 100 singles matches in a year since Chris Evert in 1974.

Amelie Mauresmo followed in the footsteps of Kim Clijsters in 2004, when Mauresmo became the first French player to attain the top spot in the WTA rankings. Jelena Jankovic then repeated the same feat in 2008 and clinched the year-end top spot as well. Dinara Safina followed in 2009 and Caroline Wozniacki in 2010.

While Clijsters did go on to win her first Grand Slam at the 2005 US Open, and Mauresmo did it at the Australian Open 2006, Safina, Jankovic and Wozniacki are still in the hunt of their first ever major trophy. Will they ever be able to win it, only time will tell us.

Let's have a look at the seasons of the these five players, during which they first attained the top spot. Let the numbers do the talking, and let yourself be the judge as to who do you think did the best during her season that saw her attain the world No. 1 ranking for the first time. Do comment on how do you people see the seasons of these five players.

PERFORMANCE OF SLAMLESS WORLD NUMBER ONES IN THE YEAR THEY REACHED THE TOP RANKING

GRAND SLAM RESULTS OF SLAMLESS WORLD NUMBER ONES IN THE YEAR THEY REACHED THE TOP RANKING

At three of four Grand Slam events Clijsters was defeated by the eventual champion, with the only exception being Wimbledon where she lost to Venus Williams in the semis, who then lost to sister Serena in the final. At both French Open and the US Open Clijsters was defeated by none other than Justine Henin.

Safina was defeated by Serena at the Australian Open and Svetlana Kuznetsova at the French Open, while Venus thrashed Safina in Wimbledon semis (6-1 6-0) which marked the fewest games won by a reigning No.1 in a match. Serena mocked Safina's status of the top player. After Serena won Wimbledon, she said that she would rather be world No.2 and win two Grand Slams, than be world No.1 and win Rome.

As for our current world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, we can notice that her 15-4 win-loss record at Grand Slams in the year she first occupied the top spot is the worst of the five slamless number ones.

PERFORMANCE AT YEAR-END CHAMPIONSHIPS

PERFORMANCE AT TOURNAMENTS

INSIGHT INTO LOSSES

What is interesting to note here is that Clijsters was beaten only thrice by a player outside the Top 25 during the whole year and for a total of four times only by a player ranked outside the Top 5. I guess Clijsters' season of 2003 was the best of all these five players. What do you people think?

Safina is the only slamless No.1 who lost to a player outside the Top 100 in the year she reached the top of the rankings. Safina fell to a world No.132 player and a world No.226 player consecutively.

As for our current No.1, Caroline Wozniacki, she had six losses to players outside Top 25, while her lowest-ranked conqueror was then-No.62 Petra Kvitova, currently the world's second-ranked player.

How do you see the performance of these five stars during their stellar seasons which made them achieve the top spot?

Thanks, Omair, for contributing with your analysis once again. I'm looking forward to posting Part 2. For those who have joined us for the first time, do explore Omair's previous insights into the 2011 season:

(photos: © Neal Trousdale, Stephane Martinache)

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20 thoughts on “Part 1: Comparison of the five slamless WTA No.1s and the origin of the phenomenon

  1. JohnnyB

    Omair – another excellent job!!!! Thank you!!

    I attended a few of these matches and know they sometimes ended because of injury – several for Safina and the Warsaw match for Wozniacki. Caroline wanted to play so badly in the country of her ancesters that she showed even though she was injured. That match and others when players can't continue should not count. Unfortunately, injuries play a big part in the ranking system. An example is 2011 when so many stars were out for so long.

  2. Omair

    JohnnyB – Thank you so much for the appreciation :)

    Yes, you are quite right about the injury thing. Injury has no doubt played a major role in the WTA rankings for the past several years. But this brings us to another discussion, why are the WTA stars injured so frequently??? Do they have scheduling problems or what? Lets hope the players figure it out and play to stay injury free as well so that we may enjoy more competitive matches :)

  3. Marine

    Omair, you must love the numbers :-). I also find this analysis interesing,I think that injuries may be a result of several factors, schedule included. On the other hand short schedule cannot always guarantee that there will be less injuries, if someone gets unlucky like Justine Henin…

  4. Jizy

    clearly, looking at the statistics provided I think Kim deserved to finally won a grand slam
    four grand slams exactly
    and I don't think that the other three would do the same like her

  5. Omair

    Marine – Thanks alot for the appreciation :)

    Yup injuries are no doubt the reason of some bad results for the top players but what I believe is that with careful planning of schedule injuries can be avoided. They can not be eliminated entirely but for sure they can be avoided. Plus the way you play and train also has an impact on your injuries. Lets hope for an injury free year for the players so that we may have some hot rivalries to see :)

  6. harmless

    I think it's silly to claim that Wozniacki's performance at the YEC 'was the worst of all the five players'. Common sense says that she did second best, no?

  7. Marija Post author

    Harmless, her win-loss record at Grand Slams was 15-4, the worst of all the five players, check the table again.

  8. Mig

    I think this is very interesting. Im a huge WTA fan and I love the discussion. I feel that as of late the number one player has been the most consistent, not necessarily the "best" player. I, however, dont feel that these women that reach number one without winning a grand slam should be penalized for playing a full schedule and entertaining us. I love the Williams sisters, a fan of Clijsters but they are very picky in the events they want to play and they are rarely in full health. I am not a fan of Wozniacki at all, but she is very talented, and has brought us great matches this year, just like Clijsters, Mauresmo, Janovic and Safina did when they were number one with out a grand slam. I also hate how the media and the commentators always have something negative to say about these women. Jankovic and Wozniacki dont hit the ball hard enough, Safina was just a ball basher etc. They say the women all have the same playing style but I beg to differ. I love the uncertainty and the drama in the womens game. Side note, I love the serbian players, HUGE fan of Jankovic though. I know everyone has counted her out but I KNOW she is destined to win a slam. Fingers crossed.

  9. harmless

    Marija, you're right about the Slam results, but I was refering to comment about the Year-End Championship. Surely being runner-up is better than losing in the semifinals?

  10. Marine

    Her performance this year was not good because she was not feeling well. However, she eliminated everyone from the race to no.1 by only winning one match. Not a bad compensation :-)

  11. Marija Post author

    Harmless, oh yes, you're right. But the statement was made for the win-loss record. She won three matches and lost two, while Jankovic won four and lost two, etc.

  12. harmless

    Jankovic didn't win four matches at the YEC in 2008, nor did Mauresmo in 2004. I think our stats expert made a rare mistake, which make their performances look a bit better (and Wozniacki's worse by comparison;)

  13. Omair

    @ Harmles
    Yes, you are right. I had acciently put in the matches played by Jankovic and Mauresmo at the YEC in place of the matches won by each at the YEC. It will be corrected soon. Thanks for pointing it out :)

  14. Des Platt

    Cannot blame the Slamless number ones for the system; if they want to play every week, that is up to them. However, in every sport, great players peak in big tournaments. In golf Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are very good players but cannot be regarded as greats without a big four tournament win.

    I am confident that for all time stature, none of those other players will ever belong in the same league as Kim Clijsters

  15. Omair

    @ Des Platt

    Its not about playing every week, its about being consistent, and yes about being all time great you are no doubt right they won't stand a chance against the likes of Graff,Seles, Serena, Clijsters, Henin. The point was that they did earn their number one spot and they can't be criticised for it.

  16. Mirza Hasnain

    A very well written article indeed. I must admit that the performance of Caroline Wozniacki is the worst amongst the 'slamless' No.1's….

  17. janjobitch

    CarOW failed to reach any grand slam final in 2 years and yet she reached #1 ranking and stay there

    at least jankovic reached #1 by reaching USO 2008 final

    at least Safina reached #1 after 3 GS finals

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