I like Jelena Jankovic. I always root for her whenever she plays anyone not named Ana Ivanovic. She's a personality. A counterpuncher in a game of ball bashers. She is one of the best players in the world and on August 11 (next Monday) she will "ascend" to the #1 ranking.
Ascend, my ass. Sure, the computer says she's #1, and under the rankings system put in place by the WTA, she is ranked #1. But I guess since Justine's retirement, being ranked #1 doesn't mean what it used to. I thought the system was supposed to award the #1 ranking to the best player in the world. Either I'm wrong or the system is crap. I'm pretty arrogant so I'm going to go with the latter.
I understand all the arguments for JJ's #1 ranking, the primary one being her consistency. But consistency runs both ways, and while JJ has consistently shown she can perform well at tournaments, she has also consistently shown that she cannot win them. Ana, Maria, and Serena may not perform as consistently, but they've all shown that when push comes to shove, they can come out on top when it matters.
So here's my list of reasons why I have a hard time accepting what's going to happen on August 11. None of them standing alone, would be enough, but taken together they paint a very simple picture: Jelena Jankovic has not shown that she is the best player in the world over the past 52 weeks.
- She has never made it to a Grand Slam final: Players play for the Grand Slams. There are only four of them and each of them features a 128 player field. In order to win a Slam, you have to win
sixseven straight matches. Because they are the most prestigious tournaments every top player, barring injury, plays. And everyone, from top to bottom, brings their A game. The point is, I don't care how many Tier 1, 2, or 3 events you've won. If you cannot beat the field at a Grand Slam, just once, you cannot be considered the best player in the world. In JJ's case, she can't even get past a Grand Slam semifinal. At least Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo made a final when they got to #1. JJ simply has not proven that she can come out on top when it matters against a full and tough field. So how can we consider her the best?
- She earns her points by playing more than any other top player: This actually isn't a criticism of JJ, it's a criticism of the system. Rankings are determined by taking a player's best 17 tournament results over the past 52 weeks. Therefore, if you play a lot of tournaments you can negate your worst results and actually "inflate" your ranking. For example, over the past 52 weeks, Ana has played exactly 17 tournaments. That means every tournament counts towards her ranking, the good (1000 points for RG) and the bad (1 point for Rome). JJ on the other hand has played 23 tournaments. That means that five of JJ's results, her lowest results, don't count towards her ranking total. She gets the benefit of basically erasing her 5 worst results by replacing them with 5 better results. In contrast, for Ana, Maria, and Serena, their rankings are "true" because all of their results have been counted, even the worst ones (Ana's played 17 tournaments and Maria and Serena have played 14). If they played a few more tournaments they would undoubtedly have more points. But they are managing their careers and the system punishes them for it.
- She has only one title in the last 13 months: Considering how much JJ plays, I would expect her to have more titles in the last year, especially considering that she does play quite a few Tier 2 and Tier 3 tournaments, where the field is relatively weak. Heck, I would expect her to have more titles in her career (she only has 6). Shouldn't the #1 player in the world be able to blitz through a Tier 3 field as opposed to losing in the first round (twice!)?
- She has lost twice this year to the current #1 player in the world: This reason is particularly personal to me. JJ is displacing Ana as the new world #1, even though she has lost to her twice this year and actually hasn't beaten her since 2006. Ana has a 6-1 head-to-head record against her. Similarly, in their only meeting this year JJ got waxed by Sharapova at the Australian Open, and Sharapova has a 4-1 record against her.
- She's not thought of as a top five player: No one remembers who comes in second, and people definitely don't remember who came in third or fourth. If you ask tennis fans, avid or casual, who the best player in the world is, I will be absolutely shocked if they say Jelena Jankovic. She has done nothing memorable in her career, mainly, winning a Grand Slam. Because she's not perceived as the best player, her ascension to #1 makes a mockery of the rankings system and of the WTA.
Rankings are what they are and the computer says that JJ is #1. I'm not arguing with that. She is the #1 ranked player in the world. But that's a far cry from actually being the #1 player in the world. She has had multiple opportunities to prove us wrong and show us that she's worthy (even just winning LA or Montreal would have softened me). But every time the opportunity has been there, she has choked. I have watched a lot of tennis this year, and I have never heard any commentator describe Jelena as playing like the best player in the world. They said that about Maria at the Australian Open. They said it about Ana at the French. But they have never said it about Jelena for a very simple reason. She's never given us a performance to prove it. Until that day comes, she will continue to have the label of the weakest #1 in the history of the WTA.