Here’s a number for you: 186. That’s the official WTA Tour record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1. It’s a feat accomplished only twice in the Open Era, by Steffi Graf (between August 1987 and March 1991) and Serena Williams (between February 2013 and September 2016). It’s a number that’s downright DiMaggio-esque; one that may never be approached again.
To really appreciate the stat, consider this: There were no fewer than seven lead changes atop the WTA rankings in 2017, and for only the second time since the computer rankings were introduced in 1975, five different players held the top spot over the course of a year. It also marked the first time three new No. 1s were crowned in a single season. As it happens, all three — Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova — will be in action on Friday at the BNP Paribas Open. Coming into the tournament with 7,965 total points, it’s Halep who currently reigns supreme in this game of thrones.
What does this instability in the rankings say about the state of the women’s game?
“It says a lot,” mused Muguruza, who held the top spot for four weeks in 2017. “It wasn’t like this before. There was always Serena or a few other players winning all the tournaments. But right now when you come to a tournament, you have no idea who’s going to win. There’s so much competition. It’s going to be changing a lot, the rankings, this year.”
“There is a lot of dangerous players out there,” continued the Spaniard, who opens her 2018 BNP Paribas Open campaign against American qualifier Sachia Vickery. “Between the Top 20, 30 40, everyone can be a big surprise. Everyone can take the draw and win a tournament, so you’re always in danger.”
There was certainly a power vacuum created when a pregnant Williams left the tour after her 2017 Australian Open triumph, Grand Slam No. 23. Pliskova, Muguruza, Halep, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki were left to fight it out. That tussle has carried into 2018. After Halep — the first Romanian to hold the WTA No.1 ranking — claimed year-end honors, Wozniacki wrestled it away by claiming the first Grand Slam of her career in Melbourne, only to surrender the status again to Halep.
“All the girls from the Top 10 are really good. The level is similar,” asserted Halep, who returned to No. 1 on February 26. “Every tournament is open. It’s more interesting, in my opinion. We have more fun like that, changing the No. 1. I’m not saying it was boring seeing Serena winning everything and being No. 1 all the time, because she’s a great champion, but now it’s different and, I feel, more interesting.”
The Indian Wells fortnight will mark Halep’s 18th and 19th overall weeks at No. 1. However, her place at the summit could come under threat from Wozniacki in the desert.
“Everything is so close now,” said Pliskova, who spent eight weeks at No. 1 last year, the first woman from the Czech Republic to attain the honor. “It’s still changing so much even since Caro [Wozniacki] won the Australian Open. Now it’s back to Simona. It’s only about a few points. I’m not there now, but I was there a couple of months back. Every tournament can change that quickly. There’s really nobody like Serena winning all of the tournaments.
“We can still lose to players outside of the Top 20, Top 30,” she added. “I just think that women’s tennis now is open for everybody. You don’t have to be seeded to get far in a tournament or win a tournament. There’s a lot of depth in the game.”
Serena may have something to say about it in the coming months, but for the time being, it looks as if the No. 1 ranking might just continue its shuffle, the Haleps, Wozniackis, Muguruzas and Pliskovas of the world our own Starks, Lannisters and Tyrells.