In tennis, as in any other sport, reaching the world number 1 spot is an extraordinary achievement. Being at the top of the ATP and WTA ranking is not just a prestigious reward and a sign of great importance though. A good ranking is a tangibly big deal in tennis, as it heavily affects draws and tournament brackets. Being among the top means you’ve earned the right to have an easier path towards more finals and more trophies.
Both the men’s and the women’s field have become quite unpredictable as of late, for different reasons. The men’s tour is plagued by injuries, while the women’s side is still trying to find an identity, after Serena Williams’ dominance started to be questioned. As of Monday, September 11th, 2 Spanish players will be leading both the ATP and WTA rankings. Rafael Nadal will continue to be the men’s world number 1, no matter what happens in the remainder of the US Open. Garbine Muguruza will be the new WTA world number 1, in spite of her early exit from the tournament, since Karolina Pliskova didn’t make to the final. Two very different stories unfold before us, about what it means to become the world number 1 and what it takes to return there.
Rafael Nadal remains the unquestioned ATP World Number 1
Following Roger Federer’s loss to Juan Martin Del Potro yesterday in New York, Rafael Nadal will remain at the top of the ATP ranking for (at least) a few more weeks. He’s been there 3 times already, the last one being in 2013. But what he had to endure in the meantime to return to the top spot is pretty remarkable. The injuries, the failures, the early upsets weren’t the only setbacks. In reality, Nadal had to up the level of his performance on all tennis court surfaces but clay.
A healthy King of Clay never had any problem dominating on his favorite surface, but there’s only one Grand Slam on clay and much fewer tournaments than on hard courts. In order to return to the world number 1, Nadal showed incredible consistency throughout the year when it mattered. Except for his early exit in Wimbledon and a shocking upset from wonder-kid Shapovalov in Toronto, Rafa has been great on all surfaces this year. Consistency is what gets you to the top and injury-free Nadal has had aplenty this year. That, combined with the injuries that have hit half the men’s top 10 recently. If Nadal tops it all off with another Grand Slam title in New York, his come-back will be nothing short of legendary.
Garbine Muguruza is the new WTA world number 1
When Karolina Pliskova fell to Coco Vandeweghe in the US Open quarter final, she didn’t just lose another chance to win her first Grand Slam. She also lost the WTA number 1 spot to Garbine Muguruza. I was one of the many who thought that the Spaniard had the best chances to win her second Grand Slam of the year in New York, credit to her amazing improvement on so many levels. The 2016 Roland Garros champion didn’t enjoy a great start to 2017, suffering early exits on many hard court and clay tournaments. But Muguruza’s performances throughout the year and her Wimbledon victory were enough to propel her to the top. In spite of the recent US Open run which was cut short by Petra Kvitova, I believe the Spaniard has what it takes to stay at the top for a while.
First of all the type of improvements she has made to her game are key. She shows great focus during her matches and is not easily distracted –that match in Roland Garros against Kristina Mladenovic clearly taught her a lot. Additionally, she has added some top spin to her game, which allows for better margins, instead of blasting flat shots constantly. Finally, Muguruza is not afraid to stick to her aggressive plan even when things don’t go her way during a match. Thinking about the women who have occupied the top spot –or come close to it- recently, none has made such pivotal tweaks to their game. Pliskova still heavily relies on her serve, Kerber struggles with the mental part, Halep refuses to let go of her conservative style. The floor may be that WTA top spot, but perhaps not for Garbine Muguruza.
Featured image credit: Garbine Muguruza Facebook