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Chris Chase

Defending Caroline Wozniacki's No. 1 ranking

Chris Chase
Busted Racquet

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Caroline Wozniacki is the new No. 1 tennis player in the world and judging by the reactions of some fans, you'd think this was the biggest outrage since "Shakespeare In Love" won Best Picture.

Because Wozniacki hasn't won a Grand Slam, her rise to the top seems illegitimate, it's claimed. And because she hasn't played a top-five player all year, she's dodged the best competition and beat up on lesser talents to get to the top. It's on that second point we'll focus today. The top-five stat is misguided, misleading and ill-informed. Here's why:

For starters, the top five should be a top four because there's only four players Wozniacki could face. She's a top-five player and obviously can't face herself. The list shrinks down more when you factor that the Williams sisters have made themselves scarce this year, combining to play in just 14 tournaments (Wozniacki herself has played 21). This means that, at any given point, there were basically just two players in the top five that could have fulfilled this arbitrary "play someone in the top five" requirement. It's harder than it looks. By my count, Kim Clijsters only played two matches against a player in the top five (two wins over Venus Williams).

Then consider that Wozniacki is always going to be on a different side of the draw than one of these top-five players, diminishing the likelihood of a matchup down the road at a tournament. There's more opportuntiy for either Wozniacki or her opponent to lose before the top-five matchup were to occur.

Where the stat gets misleading is that it only refers to matches against players who are in the top five at the time of the match. That makes sense, of course, but it belies the fact that Wozniacki has played top-five talent this year. She faced current No. 4 Vera Zvonareva three times (retiring to her in Charleston, winning in Montreal and losing at the U.S. Open), one-time No. 5 Elena Dementieva twice (winning both), and also defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova, who began the year ranked No. 3. (Wozniacki also beat the Russian in Fed Cup play, but that doesn't count toward the rankings).

Wozniacki beat Maria Sharapova at a Grand Slam. She ran through three top-10 players en route to a win in Tokyo. She defeated two former Slam champs in back-to-back matches in Montreal. What else is she supposed to do? Rig the draw so she could have played Kuznetsova at Indian Wells? Bribe the Williams sisters to play some events? Go play Stanford on the off-chance that she'd play Sam Stosur that month she was in the top five? And would it really be any better if Wozniacki had fulfilled the arbitrary top-five requirement by playing Dinara Safina back before she had plummeted to No. 40?

We like to complain about the rankings when they don't make sense (like when Kim Clijsters fell two spots after winning the U.S. Open), but then use them to prove conclusive points about the unworthiness of a No. 1. Wozniacki never had the opportunity to play a top-five player, not because she was ducking them, but because it never presented itself.

You can only play the draw you're given and Wozniacki did that. If she continues to play in lesser events like Ponte Vedra Beach and Copenhagen, then she'll be ripe for criticism. And as long as she stays Slam-less, the critics will carp about the ranking. But she didn't make the system, she didn't make the rules and she didn't ask Serena to step on a glass in Germany.

Caroline Wozniacki is No. 1. Deal with it.

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