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‘A very special thing’: Women’s No. 1 ranking hard to obtain, harder to hold

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at 12:54 pm , filed under Tennis News by

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TORONTO – After a period of near-unprecedented stability that saw Serena Williams hold it for over three-and-a-half years, the women’s No. 1 ranking has changed hands six times since last September, most recently being taken over by Karolina Pliskova for the first time.

Midway through the Eastbourne grass-court tuneup in late June, as many as five players were in the running to take over as No. 1 by Wimbledon’s end. At least that many can realistically stake a claim to the top ranking during the hard-court season.

At the Rogers Cup, Pliskova is playing her first tournament as the world’s top-ranked player. But it’s difficult to know what to expect from the 25-year-old Czech woman, given that outside of Williams, the distinction has rarely correlated with success in recent years, as evidenced by a handful of Pliskova’s competitors in Toronto. Whether some pressure-related causality exists between the ranking and the results, or whether it’s been mere happenstance, Pliskova will be looking to buck the trend.

“Right now it feels amazing,” Pliskova told reporters at the Aviva Centre on Monday. “Let’s just wait until the tournament starts and then I’ll maybe tell you more.”

Angelique Kerber, who Pliskova supplanted atop the rankings, hasn’t won a single tournament since she first officially became No. 1 after last year’s US Open, and hasn’t beaten a top-20 player in 2017 despite holding the top ranking for 17 weeks. Caroline Wozniacki famously carried No. 1 for 67 of 68 weeks between October 2010 and January 2012 despite failing to even make a Grand Slam final.

Simona Halep has never held the top ranking, but has struggled when the specter of it has even entered the frame. She’s twice been a set away from becoming No. 1 this year, only to lose the next two sets on both occasions.

“To be able to be No. 1 in the world means a lot, in my opinion,” Halep said, before quickly qualifying that statement by adding: “I don’t know, I’ve never been there.”

Halep acknowledged that she thought too much about the prospect of the top ranking at the French Open and Wimbledon – where she earned those opportunities to become the first-ever Romanian world No. 1 – and she hopes to keep those thoughts at bay moving forward.

“I hope to be able to get to that position one day, but I don’t want to think anymore about that,” she said. “If it’s going to happen one day, I will be maybe the happiest person.”

For all her success over the past 12 months, Pliskova has yet to capture a major title, making her the first Slam-less No. 1 since Wozniacki last held the ranking five-and-a-half years ago. Having experienced some deep lulls since then – watching her ranking fall as far as 74th last year before building it all the way back up to No. 6 – the Danish star advised Pliskova not to take anything for granted, or let anything diminish her achievement.

“I just think, enjoy the moment,” Wozniacki said. “It’s something everyone growing up playing and wanting to be a professional, that’s everyone’s goal to be No. 1 in the world, and it’s a very special thing. I would just say enjoy it no matter what everyone says. You deserve be to there, and there’s a reason why you are.”

Kerber, looking to build on a strong Wimbledon showing and turn her disappointing season around, reflected fondly on her tenure at the top of the sport.

“I think it’s a process,” she said. “It’s completely new, so I (don’t know) how Karolina will deal with this. It’s also a nice experience; it’s always a dream when you start playing tennis to become one day the No. 1. (It’s) always something special and you will never forget this feeling when you reach the position.”

At 28 years and 238 days old, Kerber was the oldest woman (by over three years) ever to become a first-time No. 1, and she feels the time it took her to get there helped her maintain an even keel once she did.

“I think for me it was the best time to reach the spot because I had a lot of ups and downs in my career and I think at (that) time I was ready to be there. Because then you really know how it is with all the ups and downs and when you finally reach the position you really appreciate it.”

For now, Pliskova seems to be taking everything in stride, and is thankful for the three-week break between Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup that allowed her to grow accustomed to her top billing.

“The first days were a little bit stressy,” she said. “I had some media stuff in my hometown, so I was just happy I got those two weeks before a tournament and now everything is fine. I was practicing well and cannot wait until my tournament starts here.”

Pliskova also insists she won’t succumb to complacency despite the milestone.

“Even though I have the best ranking now, I still want to work on a few things and hopefully I can improve,” she said, citing movement, studiousness, and consistency with her serve as areas of focus.

“Hopefully I can be better. In a few years, maybe.”

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