It is really strange isn't it?
No sooner has the 19-year old Dane, Caroline Wozniacki, risen to a career-high second in the Women's rankings before she is bashed by more or less the entire panel of tennis experts (see Steven Tignor, James Martin on tennis.com, and a Reuters article on Eurosport to name but a few. In all fairness, Martin provided an excellent analysis of her counter-pouncing style and its limitations).
It seems that almost all of of us tennis fans, pundits, and experts have an almost irresistible urge to analyze the rankings. Is this player as good as his or her ranking suggests? It is really deserved? Or has he or she just been lucky? I'm no better myself and have done my fair share of analysis.
But please hear me out on why overanalysing the rankings may not be the brightest idea in the world.
First of all, because the players don't have random rankings. They have the ranking they have as a result of how well they've played within the last year. Nothing more, nothing less (injuries omitted).
So when we make our value judgements that player X is really much, much better than player Y, despite the fact that player Y is ranked second and player X is eight, we are really just ignoring the plain fact that within the last year, player X has been able to secure more points than player Y, because X performed better.
Obviously, in the case of injuries (or the two Belgian returning without a rank they have now), the argument may have some fairness to it, but still here we are left with the question of whether these recently injured or retired players are really better at their current level than the player holding the position in the ranking they were "supposed" to have.
Yes, the two Belgians can and will beat most of the other players, when playing at their top-level. But they haven't shown that consistency yet. And yes, a perfectly fit Nadal is one of the two best players in men's tennis. But the Nadal of today and the last year? At the very least, it is a less convincing argument.
Even more important though, I would argue, is the fact that by constantly stressing that a certain player is not worthy of his or her position/have just been lucky/will soon be proven to be a second-tier player and whatever other arguments we make, we are in effect destroying the player's confidence in their own game and their own worth.
Sure, most players don't take the media, the fans, and the so-called experts all too seriously. But can anyone in earnest argue that the constant negativity surrounding Safina's well earned spot at the top did not affect her at all? It doesn't make it better that the so-called true number one did her best to ignite the media on the matter.
If it affected Safina, the same mechanism can affect other players, except for those that are entirely capable of blocking it all out. They might exist somewhere out there, but let's not forget that tennis is as much a game of confidence than of skill.
Returning to the newly crowned number two on the Women's tour, young Caroline Wozniacki, what lessons are we to take from my argument?
Well, first of all, she did not choose her ranking, neither did she express that she was by far and away the second-best tennis player in the world, so let's cut her some slack.
Secondly, it may very well be that Venus Williams, Dinara Safina, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, and Victoria Azarenka are better tennis players and will be remembered as such at the end of the day.
It may also be that most or even all of them would beat Wozniacki head-to-head. But nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that Caroline Wozniacki has performed better than all of them in the tournaments played within the last year.
She is aided by having played more tournaments than most and thus being able to exclude the worst results. But this is not a tactic that only she is allowed to choose (obviously there are some top ten rules here, but let's not get all technical).
We should not, and this includes myself, be all about criticizing the Safinas, the Djokovics, and the Wozniackis for being ranked better than they "deserve."
Obviously we are allowed to discuss qualities, deficits, and all that, but there is really no reason why we should take it out on a player day in and day out because he or she "undeservedly" is ranked number one, two, or three.
Or am I mistaken? Is this all part of the deal and contract the players sign when they opt for the professional life?