One week ago we asked whether Dinara Safina was the worst No. 1 player in the history of women's tennis. The discussion was spurred by Safina's first round loss to the 132nd ranked player in the world. At the time, we thought that would be as bad as it could get for the player who has held the top spot for 24 weeks. It didn't take long for Safina to prove us wrong.
Today in Beijing, the Russian became the first No. 1 player ever to lose to a player ranked below No. 200 in the world. Zhang Shuai, a wild card entrant into the Beijing Open and currently ranked No. 226, bested Safina in straight sets for her first ever win in a WTA Tour event.
Mercifully, this loss should bump Safina out of the top spot in the WTA rankings. If Serena Williams wins her match against Ekaterina Makarova tomorrow, she'll reclaim the No. 1 ranking she lost to Safina back in April.
Ever since Safina reached No. 1, critics like myself have called on the WTA Tour to change its rankings system. That was never going to happen with Safina still lodged at the top, since a change that displaced her would be perceived as a direct indictment of the Russian player. But now that Williams is (almost) back to No. 1, a change can take place without any instant repurcussions in the rankings (since an improved system would likely keep Serena at No. 1).
A Grand Slam win is worth twice as many points in the rankings as a regular Tier 1 tournament, despite the fact that Grand Slams are infinitely more important than, say, the Madrid Open. Winning both Rome and Madrid is equal to winning Wimbledon in the eyes of the WTA rankings. That's absurd.
The WTA does this to encourage players to play in the second-tier tournaments and that's a fine goal. But they need to come up with a better incentive that doesn't make a mockery of the rankings system. It's one thing to encourage players to play. It's another to do so at the expense of the credibility of the rankings. I mean, did anyone ever believe Dinara Safina was the No. 1 player in the world? Heck, Dinara Safina didn't even seem to believe it.
If the WTA wants tennis fans to start taking its rankings seriously again, it's time for a massive overhaul. And now that Serena is one win away from being back where she belongs, there will never be a better time to do it.