Poor Jelena. It's not her fault the WTA's ranking system is set up the way it is. It's not her fault that Justine Henin retired. And it's not her fault that Ana, Maria, and Serena keep losing early in tournaments.
Now, Tennis.com did a fantastic job crunching the numbers to actually prove, quantitatively, that JJ truly is the weakest #1 in history. Identifying the trend of recent #1s capturing the spot with so few points, the article, instead of simply falling into the slew of WTA bashing articles that have been popping up lately, looks to explain the trend. And the explanation is absolutely, 100%, dead on:
REASONS BEHIND THE TREND
Clearly, it’s taking less and less to outpace the field on the women’s tour these days. Why?
1. Justine Henin’s retirement
It’s a short-term aberration, but the sudden retirement of the world’s top player in April has had a very real and direct impact on the rankings. Even if Henin hadn’t played between her shock announcement in April and now, she would have stayed No. 1 till the week after next.
Ironically, that's also when Jankovic is likely to drop back down to No. 2 or 3. So it's unequivocally true that all else being equal, the Serb would not be No. 1 next week had Henin not retired. Ana Ivanovic would also still be waiting for a chance at the top spot.
2. Increased depth (yes, it’s real)
Ten years ago, a player who could hit solidly off both wings from the baseline could be assured of a reasonable future on the tour. Now, there are scores of young Eastern Europeans and a smattering of canny veterans all capable of doing that and more, and top players are no longer blowing others off the court in match after match. As the Williams sisters demonstrated at the French Open and Ivanovic and Sharapova at Wimbledon, even the early rounds of Grand Slams now bring players capable of knocking off a rusty top seed.
As a result, it’s hard for a single competitor to dominate the way the likes of Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and even Martina Hingis did. Now, someone like Jankovic, who keeps piling up semifinals and quarterfinals, can keep pace with the scattered up-and-down results of the big-time winners.
3. Injuries and retirements
Injuries have prevented most of the top players from playing a full schedule over the last few years, giving someone like the tireless Jankovic an even bigger edge in piling up ranking points. And a spate of retirements – Clijsters, Hingis, Henin, Myskina – have helped clear the way for younger players to move up.
4. The ranking system itself
In an effort to encourage players to play more, the WTA ranking system has increasingly rewarded quantity over quality.
Points are now are calculated not by averaging a player’s total results but adding together her best results. As a result, there’s no cost to playing extra events – losing in the first round would bring down your average under the old system, but under the new system and you can simply drop your lowest score as long as you play more than 18 events. Jankovic, who has played 23 events over the past year compared to 14 for Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, has much more padding in her points total than either of the two past Australian Open champions.
The benchmark for an average schedule has also increased from 12 events in 1995 to 14 in 1996 to 17 today. It is scheduled to drop back to 16 under next year’s Roadmap changes. Finally, the decision two years ago to stop awarding extra points for defeating top players has shifted the emphasis away from quality and towards the sheer ability to notch wins (against anyone). The Roadmap will next year severely restrict where top players can play and should result in more match-ups between them, but it doesn’t offer any extra boost for rising youngsters or the tour’s giant-killers.
I highly recommend you read the entire article. They really did their homework and did the story justice. Props to them!