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Sun, Feb. 23

Column: It takes a special player to get - and keep - that top ranking

To be the No. 1-ranked player at the end of the year normally takes 12 months of incredible play.

It takes a special player and person, not to mention a bit of luck. Not so much in skill but certainly in staying healthy both physically and mentally, and performing well in most of the majors where higher points are earned, to gain this coveted title.

Since the advent of "Open Tennis," which occurred in 1968 and allowed amateurs and professionals to play against one another, the game of tennis could gauge by results who were the best players in the world in a reasonably fair ranking system.

But up until 1973 for the men's tour and 1975 for the women when these associations went to a computerized mathematical formula for bi-weekly listings of players based on their win/loss record and size of tournament, the rankings were created by a panel of men and women tennis experts and were somewhat subjective.

From 1973 until 2006, the rankings were still imperfect due to the fact that events such as Davis and Fed Cup, WCT Finals and the year-end Masters were not included in the point system for ranking determination.

So arguments can be made, up until nine years ago, as to who was really the No. 1 player in the world based on what wasn't included in the criteria.

With that said and looking at who has had this honor bestowed on them since 1968, there are but a handful of men and women who have had numerous years accumulated at this prestigious year-end No. 1 position.

Steffi Graff (8), Chris Evert (8), Martina Navratilova (7), Pete Sampras (6), Roger Federer (5), Bjorn Borg (4).

Weeks at No. 1: Graf 377, Federer 302, Navratilova 332, Sampras 286, Evert 260, Lendl 270.

To give you a little idea how the points are acquired, here's a brief summary.

The ranking system is based upon a rolling 12-month history of how well each player did in the tournaments they entered.

Different tournaments are worth different amounts of ranking "points." The four majors are worth the most, followed by the "Masters" (men's) or "Tier I" events (women's), and then less for the smaller tournaments with minimal prize money and participation.

A player will earn more points the farther they go in a specific tournament. For example, a men's player will get 250 points for reaching the quarterfinals of a major, but they'll get 1,000 for winning the championship. But at a smaller tournament, they might only get 200 points for winning the whole thing.

When the tournament rolls around the following year, whatever points the player had earned the previous year will "drop off." That's why a player who did well in a particular tournament the previous year will talk about having to "protect" their ranking by doing just as well the following year, or else they will lose points and their ranking will drop.

In the women's rankings, they only consider the player's best 17 tournaments in a given year, so that a player can't hoard points by entering every tournament under the sun. On the men's side, they always include the Slams and the "Masters" events, plus the best five results from the remaining tournaments.

The bottom line is, it's an absolute killer to come out at the end of the year at the top spot. You have two real choices in pulling this feat off: Do well at the four majors and accumulate a lot of points there, or play more tournaments than anyone else and grab extra points with added match play - which is a beast in what it can do to your body.

As the top players get older, most regulate their schedule of tournament events to help keep them from getting injured, too tired and in a better physical frame of mind for the bigger events.

Right now it's Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams holding the reins, but will that be the case in December? Stay tuned. The year's really just beginning.

Chris Howard is a local USPA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.

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