What follows is truly a "who knows if anyone cares" exercise. :-) It's very long, and fairly complex, but it analyses the behavior of the WTA Top 20 in rather nauseating detail, trying to figure out something-or-other. What you make of it is up to you.
Now let's just hope I don't make too many typos....
Quasi-legal disclaimer: This thing represents a lot of work. So I'm sort of copyrighting it. The information in this document is either copyright by the WTA Tour (the official rankings and rankings methods) or by me, Robert Waltz (all statistical analysis, plus the organization of the report). You may freely distribute this document, but may not accept payment for it in any form or distribute it for profit without my permission, nor may you remove this disclaimer.
Ordinary English translation: Don't charge money for this, and don't say you wrote it.
What is this thing? This is a Statistical Abstract of the results of the women of the WTA. That is, it attempts to describe, statistically, their results, and to rate their performances in various ways.
The purpose of this document is not to assert opinions. Of course, it is impossible to entirely avoid opinions, since I have some. For instance, I disagree with the official WTA Tour opinion that Davenport was the #1 player of 1999; I believe that honour belonged to Hingis. (Or, more correctly, I believe there was no true #1 player in 1999, but that Hingis was a slightly stronger player than Davenport.) Nonetheless, this abstract exists primarily for the sake of the numbers. If there is commentary, it is designed either to explain what the numbers mean or to bring out some especially salient point.
The final section, "Forecasts," contains more opinions than the others, and some readers may wish to skip it. But even it exists primarily to point out the nature of each player's performance in 1998, where they are strong, where they are weak, and what they must do to defend or improve their rankings.
For the most part, data in this document is compiled only for the
WTA Top 20. It is assumed that the Top 5 in all categories will be on
this list, and usually the Top 10.
1998 In Review
The Final Top Twenty
For purposes of reference, here are the Final 1998 Top 20 as determined by the WTA:
|Rank||Name||Best 18 Score||# of Trns||Gap from Preceding||Began Year At|
|12||Van Roost, Dominique||2073||25||183||18|
We might observe that the "gaps" reveal the existence of several classes of players. There are the Top 2 -- Hingis and Davenport -- who are so far ahead of the field that they are effectively in competition only with each other. (Indeed, the difference between them lies almost entirely in the fact that Hingis was #1 for most of the year. Hingis defeated Davenport twice, neither one at a Slam, once when Davenport was #1 and once when Davenport was #2. This earned Hingis 175 points. Davenport, by contrast, beat Hingis three times, all when Hingis was #1, and once in a Slam. This earned Davenport 400 points. The difference, 225 points, is 80% of the gap between the two -- yet it really consists only of the difference in the way quality points are awarded.)
Following the Top 2 there is a gap of 1600+ points -- equivalent to
two Grand Slam -- wins before we reach another group of players.
This second tier consists of Novotna, Sanchez-Vicario, Venus Williams,
and Seles. Then we have another large gap -- 800+ points, or the
equivalent of another Slam -- to Pierce, Martinez, Graf (though
Graf is likely to be able to jump this gap), Tauziat, and Schnyder.
>From there on, players straggle down to Sugiyama, followed by another
The Beginning Top Twenty
The Top 20 at the beginning of the year was significantly different:
|Rank||Name||1998 Final Ranking|
|10||M. J. Fernandez||76|
|15||Schultz-McCarthy||(outside top 100)|
Players who were in the Top 10 at beginning and end of the year: 6 -- Davenport, Hingis, Novotna, Pierce, Sanchez-Vicario, Seles
Players who were in the Top 20 at the beginning and end of the
year: 12 -- Coetzer, Davenport, Hingis, Martinez, Novotna, Pierce,
Sanchez-Vicario, Seles, Spirlea, Tauziat, Testud, Van Roost
All the Players in the Top Ten in 1998
The Top Ten Based on WTA (Best 18) Statistics
The lists below show all (I believe) all players who have ranked in the Top 10 in 1998, with the highest rank achieved (total of 17 players).
The following list shows all the players who have occupied a given position in the Top 10:
This list shows all players who would have been in the Top 10 under the 1996 ranking system, with the highest ranking achieved. (For the list of the final Top 10 under this system, see the section on Alternate Rankings.)
The following list shows the winner of all major (Tier II or higher) tournaments, ordered first by date then by type:
|Tokyo (Pan Pacific)||I||Davenport|
|Lipton (Key Biscayne)||I||V. Williams|
|Princess Cup (Tokyo)||II||Seles|
|Tokyo (Pan Pacific)||Davenport|
|Lipton (Key Biscayne)||V. Williams|
|Princess Cup (Tokyo)||Seles|
It will be observed that every winner of a Tier II or higher wound
up in the Top 20, and every winner except Coetzer of a Tier I or higher
wound up in the Top 10.
Number of Tournament Wins for Each Player
The following table shows tournament wins by the Top 20. Tournaments are categorized as major (Tier II or higher) or minor (Tier III or lower). The tournaments are listed, with their level, on the next line. The list is in order of the final WTA rankings
|Rank||Name||Major Wins||Minor Wins||Total Wins|
|Pan Pacific (I), Stanford (II), San Diego (II), Los Angeles (II), U.S. Open (Slam), Zurich (I)|
|Australian Open (Slam), Indian Wells (I), Hamburg (II), Rome (I), Chase (Champ)|
|Linz (II), Eastbourne (II), Wimbledon (Slam), Prague (III)|
|Sydney (II), Roland Garros (Slam)|
|Lipton (I), Oklahoma City (III)|
|Canadian Open (I), Tokyo/Princess Cup (II)|
|Paris (II), Amelia Island (II), Moscow (I), Luxembourg (III)|
|Berlin (II), Warsaw (III)|
|New Haven (II), Leipzig (II), Philadelphia (II)|
|Hobart (IV), Hannover (II), Madrid (III), Maria Lankowitz (IV), Palermo (IV)|
|Hilton Head (I)|
|Gold Coast (III), Tokyo/Japan Open (III)|
The following Top 20 players did not win any tournaments in 1998:
Tauziat (10), Kournikova (13), Zvereva (16), Farina (19),
Serena Williams (20)
Fraction of Tournaments Won
|Rank||Player||Tournaments Won||Tournaments Played||Percent|
Note: Graf and Tauziat were still alive at Birmingham when
this tournament was rained out during the semifinals. Thus they
only completed 12 and 23 tournaments, respectively. If this
imcomplete event is left out, Graf won 25% of the tournaments she
entered, and Tauziat still won 0%.
The list below shows all the tournaments each player played in 1998. The numbers in parentheses list, first, the Tier of the tournament, second, how far the player went, and third, the number of wins achieved. This is followed by a list of top players beaten en route, with the player's rank at the time.
The earlier columns show the number of events of each type the player played (Slam+Chase Championship, Tier I, Tier II, Tier III, Tier IV), plus the mean and median tier.
|Tier of Events Played||Events|
|Heineken Trophy (NED)||Halard-Decugis||III|
|Polish Open (Sopot)||Nagyova||IV|
There are, of course, many ways of reshaping the above ranking data.
A typical way would be to use some of the WTA's earlier ranking systems.
For example, if we were to use the WTA's 1997 system of accumulating all
points, the Top 10 shifts around slightly, with Tauziat taking over #9
and Graf and Schnyder being tied for #10. That is, under this system,
the Top 15
Total Points Ranking (1997 Ranking System)
This difference was potentially important, as the 1998 final rankings will probably determine the Australian Open seedings (very few of the top players will play the first week of the year, and the Australian seedings are based on the rankings after that first week). Had Novotna not plaed in Australia, Graf would have been seeded #8, Tauziat #9, and Schnyder #10. Since Graf, Tauziat, and Schnyder are effectively tied under Best 18, and Graf is better under most other ranking systems, the Australian seedings are reasonable.
Still, Best 18 did not differ much from Total Points. (This is because almost no one earns anything in tournaments 19-whatever. Among the Top 20, only twelve managed to play 19 or more tournaments, and only four -- Davenport, Van Roost, Testud, and Zvereva -- earned more than 2 points in the nineteenth tournament. Only Davenport, with 65, earned more than 36 points in Tournament 19. The strong majority of players outside the Top 20 did play 19 or more tournaments, but only two -- Likhovtseva, with 28 points, and Schett, with 18 -- earned more than 10 points in the 19th tournament. Thus in no case do the points from tournaments 19-whatever represent as much as 3% of a player's total.)
But if Best 18 and Total Score rankings are almost identical, the
same is not true when these systems are compared with the WTA's
1996 ranking system, Points per Tournament (minimum 14). Here the rankings
are completely different. Scores are rounded to the nearest point. Note that
not one player Top Ten holds the same ranking under Best 18 and Points per
Tournament. (Think about that for a minute.) Nonetheless, the Top
Ten players fall into roughly the same "bunches," except that
Graf has risen to a position between the second and third tiers.
Points Per Tournament, Minimum 14
(1996 Ranking System)
If, instead of a minimum of 14, we go to the still earlier system with a minimum of 12, the top 9 are unchanged (though Graf's score improves to 174), but Serena Williams moves up to #10 with a score of 108.
We follow this with some assorted systems which have never been used
by the WTA.
The list below shows how the top 20 fared in terms of wins (I also show losses for balance). The reason this deviates so far from the rankings is that some of these players (e.g. Farina, Schnyder, Sugiyama, Tauziat, Testud, Van Roost) played large numbers of low-tier (Tier III and Tier IV) tournaments. Since they faced low-level opposition, their wins, quite properly, do not count as much toward the rankings.
The next two sections show data for the Top 25, not just the Top 20.
Note: This list includes only official tour wins; exhibitions and Fed Cup are excluded. It should also be noted that the WTA Tour site lists incomplete (and occasionally inaccurate) data for wins and losses; I have corrected it as best I can.
Based on the data on wins, we find the following order for win percentage (Note: Only two digits are carried unless a third is needed to break ties):
|Rank||Name||Win Percent||WTA Rank|
This is the men's ranking system, of course. This, too, produces something of a shakeup. Once again we see Hingis rising to #1 (barely), while Tauziat drops out of the Top 10. Note: Due to some minor oddities in the way the data is organized, I have rounded all figures to the nearest 25. I believe the order below is correct, however.
|Rank||Name||Best 14 Score||WTA Rank|
These are simply other ways of looking at the WTA ranking numbers.
I will leave their significance as an exercise for the readers, and
simply describe the ranking and list the Top 10
Total Round Points
|Rank||Name||Total Rnd Pts||WTA Rank|
|Rank||Name||Total Qual Pts||WTA Rank|
|Rank||Name||Rnd Pts per Trn||WTA Rank|
|Rank||Name||Quality per Trn||WTA Rank|
(Calculated by doubling total quality points, adding round points, and dividing the sum by tournaments. The effect of this is to make, very roughly, half of the typical player's points come from quality and half from round points.)
|Rank||Name||2Q+R per Trn||WTA Rank|
For additional alternate ranking schemes, see
Statistics/Rankings Based on Head-to-Head Numbers.
Head to Head Records
The Top 20 Head to Head
The table below shows how the Top 20 fared against each other in 1998. For completeness, the Top 25 are shown on the vertical axis, although only the Top 20 are listed across the top.
Reading the Table: For space reasons, the names of the Top 20 players have been abbreviated in the column headings. Each heading lists the player's rank and the first three letters of her surname (or, in the case of the Williams sisters, a distinguishing initial and then two letters of the surname). Scores are meant to be read down the columns. That is, the first number in the record is that of the person at the top of the column, not the beginning of the row. So, e.g., if you look down the column headed 1/DAV (i.e. #1, Davenport) and the row labelled 2/Hingis (i.e. #2, Hingis), you will see the notation "3-2." This means that Davenport prevailed in three of her five meetings with Hingis, and Hingis won two.
The following table shows each player's won/lost record against the Top 10, against the Second 10 (#11-#20), and against the Top 20 as a whole. Note: This is not the same as the players' wins over Top 10/Top 20 players. What is shown here is the player's record against the women who ended the year in the Top 10/Top 20. At the time of the matches, some of these women will not have been at their final ranks.
|Overall W/L||Against Top 10||Against #11-#20||Against Top 20||Non-Top 20|
Based on these numbers, we can offer a number of statistics/rankings. For instance:
Total Wins over Top 10 Players (total wins shown in parentheses):
Winning Percentage over Top 10 Players (winning percentage in parentheses):
For additional information about winning percentages, see Winning Percentage against Non-Top-20 Players.
Of course, simply listing winning percentage against the Top 10 doesn't mean much. It's a lot harder to beat a Davenport than a Tauziat. We may attempt to compensate for this in several ways. The table below shows four of these. They are as follows:
In every case, a total score is calculated, and then (to even out the effects of the number of matches one has played against the Top 10), this is divided by the number of matches against Top 10 players.
Observe that all of these numbers are based on arbitrary systems, and should be compared only with other numbers of the same type and in the same column.
|Inverse Rank||WTA Awards||By Seeding||Year-end Total||Year-end Divisor|
For those who are confused, it should be noted that these
are very obscure statistics. Suffice it to say that, here as
elsewhere, the race between Davenport and Hingis was very close
-- but that the race was won by Graf! Hingis and Davenport
were generally in second and third (Davenport winning three
of the contests, Hingis two), while Pierce was fourth. The
rest of the players were generally well behind.
How They Earned Their Points
The following tables show the percentages of their points the
Top 20 earned in various ways....
Fraction of Points Earned in Slams
|WTA Rank||Player||% of Points Earned in Slams||% of Points Not Earned in Slams|
|WTA Rank||Player||% of Points from Quality||% of Points from Round Points|
Generally speaking, the higher the fraction of points one earns from quality, the better one is at pulling off "upsets." This is especially true of lower-ranked players; a player like Hingis, who was #1 for most of the year, has somewhat fewer quality points available, as she could not defeat a #1 player at any of the slams, could only play #2 in a final, could only play #3 or #4 in a semifinal or final (by which time they could have lost), etc.
For Comparison:The median quality percentage for the Top 25
is 39; the arithmetic mean (average) is 39.7. For the Top 20, the
median is 39.5 and the mean 39.6. For the Top 10, the mean and
median are both 39. Thus, among the Top 10 we find Davenport,
Seles, Pierce, and Graf slightly above normal in ability to
produce upsets; Hingis, Novotna, and Williams quite close to
normal; and Sanchez-Vicario, Martinez, and Tauziat rather below
normal. These lists, especially the last, should not surprise
anyone (compare the Head to Head Records).
Percentage of Points Earned on
The first four numbers in this table should be fairly self-explanatory. The last two columns, STD DEV and MAX-MIN, are perhaps less clear. These measures are included as an attempt to assess a player's balance. STD DEV is the standard deviation of the player's four surface percentages. The smaller it is, the less deviation there is from the mean, and presumably the more balanced the player is. MAX-MIN is the player's highest percentage minus the player's lowest percentage, that is, the gap between the player's least and most important surfaces.
Both measures show that Jana Novotna seems to have had the most balanced results. The least balanced result was turned in by Ai Sugiyama.
For Reference: The median of the Standard Deviations is 0.18; the median of MAX-MIN is 42.
For Reference: For the Top 20 as a whole, 40.2% of all points were earned on hardcourts, 22.3% on clay, 11.1% on grass, and 26.4% indoors. (This is an interesting footnote in itself; we tend to treat indoors as the "fourth surface," or at least the third, after hardcourts and clay. In fact, however, indoors is the second surface, despite the fact that none of the slams are played indoors.)
Note: Balance is not the same as consistency. Take Novotna: She earned 36% of her points on grass, despite playing only two of her eighteen tournaments on grass. Thus she was much better on grass than other surfaces. She was not consistent -- but she was balanced.
Note: Due to round-off, some percentages may not add up to 100, and MAX-MIN may differ by ±1 from what appears to be the largest value minus the smallest value.
Just as an interesting footnote, here are the numbers for Mirjana Lucic. If the entire tour were spent on clay, she might be Top 10....
We also observe the interesting fact that Venus Williams is one of the least balanced players on the tour (second only to Sugiyama in that category), yet Serena Williams's numbers place her above the median in balance. The meaning of this is left as an exercise to the reader (i.e. I haven't a clue what it means :-).
For additional information on results by surface, see the
section on Surface Rankings.
We often speak of a player's "consistency," but the term
does not really have a clear definition. We can offer some models, however.
Standard Deviation of Scores by Tournament
One measure of a player's consistency is the standard deviation of a player's results over the tournaments she plays. The following list expresses a player's consistency by dividing the standard deviation of her score by the mean score. In mathematical parlance, if the player's scores are s1, s2, ... sn, then the number given here is:
|STDDEV(s1, s2, ...sn)
MEAN(s1, s2, ...sn)
Thus (for the mathematicians out there), the column labelled STD DEV is not actually the standard deviation; it has been normalized by dividing by the mean.
Note: This is not a ranking system; it is simply a measure of consistency. A player who loses in the second round of every tournament is more consistent (consistently bad) than a player who wins half of her tournaments and loses early in the other half -- but the player who wins the tournaments will have a higher ranking.
In the list below, the lower the score, the more consistent the player is. I have not "ranked" the players, lest this be confused with a ranking scheme, but they are listed in order from least to most consistent by the "standard deviation" measure.
Another way of measuring consistency is how rarely one suffers early-round losses. The following table shows how many first-round losses each of the top players had, followed by other early-round losses (defined, arbitrarily, as cases where the player earned 55 or fewer points in the tournament; this is based on the 54 points awarded for a first-round loss in the year-end championships). For my convenience, this list is alphabetical. Note: First round losses at the Chase Championships are not included as first-round losses; being worth 54 points (and being suffered at a very high-level event), they have been listed as early losses. Players who lost in the first round at the Chase are marked with an asterisk (so you may transfer the results if you like); those who did not play at the Chase are marked "x"
|Name||Tournaments||1R Losses||Other Early Losses|
|S. Williams||11||0||1 x|
|V. Williams||15||1||1 x|
So we can compile a list based on rates of first-round and early-round losses. Note that a lower number is better in this case:
A top player should consistently beat the players ranked well below her. The following table shows how the Top 20 fared against non-Top-20 players. Players are listed in order of decreasing success against low-ranked players.
|Win % against|
For addition data on results against players of various levels,
see Wins Over Top Players.
Fraction of Points Earned in Biggest Win
In general, the lower this number, the more consistent a player has been, as she did not use one freak result to significantly change her result.
The table shows the approximate point value of the player's biggest win, what percentage of her points this represents, what her score would have been without this win, approximately where she would have stood in the rankings without that win, and what the win was.
Note that only two players -- Hingis and Pierce -- were consistent enough that they could have held their rankings without the "Big Win." (This also follows from the fact that they were followed by large gaps in the rankings.)
Note: A "big win" does not constitute the result that took a player deepest into a tournament, but the result that was worth the most points. Thus, e.g., Van Roost won a Tier IV, and reached several finals (mostly at low-level events) but earned more for her semifinal showing at Filderstadt (including as it did a win over the #1 player); therefore this is reckoned as Van Roost's big win.
|5||V. Williams||450||14%||2800||7||U.S. Open SF|
|6||Seles||725||23%||2500||7||Roland Garros F|
|8||Martinez||650||28%||1700||18||Australian Open F|
|12||Van Roost||250||12%||1875||15||Filderstadt SF|
|15||Spirlea||325||17%||1525||18||Hilton Head F|
|20||S. Williams||200||16%||1100||27||Sydney SF|
For these purposes, a "significant result" is one which earns a player at least 100 points. The following table shows the number of significant results earned by the Top 20. (The percentage in the "100+ Points" column is the percentage of the player's tournaments in which she earned 100+ points; similarly in the "200+ Points" column.)
|1||Davenport||16 (80%)||13 (65%)||3|
|2||Hingis||14 (82%)||10 (59%)||5|
|3||Novotna||13 (72%)||6 (33%)||2|
|4||Sanchez-Vicario||12 (63%)||8 (42%)||1|
|5||V. Williams||12 (80%)||10 (67%)||2|
|6||Seles||12 (80%)||6 (40%)||2|
|7||Pierce||8 (50%)||5 (31%)||1|
|8||Martinez||8 (44%)||3 (17%)||1|
|9||Graf||8 (62%)||4 (31%)||1|
|10||Tauziat||7 (29%)||2 (8%)||1|
|11||Schnyder||9 (39%)||4 (17%)||0|
|12||Van Roost||9 (36%)||3 (12%)||0|
|13||Kournikova||7 (35%)||2 (10%)||1|
|14||Testud||7 (26%)||1 (4%)||0|
|15||Spirlea||6 (23%)||3 (12%)||0|
|16||Zvereva||6 (27%)||1 (5%)||1|
|17||Coetzer||7 (29%)||2 (8%)||0|
|18||Sugiyama||5 (22%)||0 (0%)||0|
|19||Farina||6 (23%)||1 (4%)||0|
|20||S. Williams||6 (55%)||1 (9%)||0|
Thus we see that Hingis was the player most likely to earn at least 100 points in a tournament, closely followed by Davenport, Venus Williams, and Seles, while Venus Williams was most likely to earn at least 200 points, closely followed by Davenport and more distantly by Hingis. The player most likely to have a truly big result (400+ points) was, by far, Hingis; she accomplished this 29% of the time (in essence, every time she had a chance; the only tournaments which reliably offer the chance to earn 400+ points are the Slams and the Chase Championships), while Davenport managed it 15% of the time, Venus Williams and Seles 13% of the time, Novotna 11% of the time, and no one else over 10%; indeed, eight of the Top 20 did not have a single 400+ point result, although all but Sugiyama had at least one 200+ point result.
For other measures of consistency, see the sections on
Points Per Quarter and
Points Per Quarter
For those who want trends, we can also determine how well players did in each part of the year. This (potentially) might allow us to project future results as well.
In the lists which follow, quarters are reckoned based on when a tournament ends. So, e.g., Wimbledon began in June but ended in July; its points are counted toward the July total.
Due to some minor problems with quality points, some of the results for the first two quarters may be off by a few points. As a result, I have rounded numbers to the nearest 10. I don't believe this affects the results much.
I have listed players in terms of total points earned, but also calculate the points per tournament, and list the note in brackets the top players in these categories. In a few places I have listed players outside the Top 10 for the quarter who had a high per-tournament score.
Note that in a handful of instances these lists include players not in the Top 20.
|3||V. Williams||1340||5||268 |
|5||Van Roost||810||8||101 |
|||[V. Williams]||520||3||173 |
|7||V. Williams||914||3||305 |
|6||Van Roost||697||5||139 |
|10||V. Williams||460||3||153 |
This allows us to calculate another consistency ranking, based on who had the best results from quarter to quarter. In the list below, I have added up the player's per-tournament score for each of the four quarters. Lowest is best, i.e. most consistent. Players not in the Top 10 in any given quarter are assigned an arbitrary value of 14.
|Rank||Name||WTA Rank||Consistency Score|
Note: Steffi Graf did not play at all in the second quarter of the year. Her score in the other three quarters was 23. If averaged over four quarters, this would make her consistency score 30.7. At least four other players -- Hingis, Seles, Pierce, and Kournikova, especially the latter three -- were clearly affected by inability to play during certain periods, but as all played at least one tournament in each quarter, this has not been taken into account.
Serena Williams probably deserves to be ranked higher than dead
last in this category, given her results on hardcourts, but she
played so few tournaments that her results did not register in
the Top 10 for any quarter.
All ratings to this point have been "overall" ratings, regardless of surface. However, players do most definitely have preferred surfaces (even if less so among the women than the men). We may therefore wish to compute "surface rankings." The following tables show how the Top 20 did on each surface. Some other players have been added when their results warrant it. Results are listed in order of points per tournament on each surface.
Note: Some numbers are slightly approximate, due to quality point variations and the fact that there are a few weeks where tournaments are played on multiple surfaces. I do not believe this affects the rankings.
It is likely that some players outside the Top 20 have exceeded
some of the lower Top 20 players on certain surfaces (witness
Huber on hardcourts). I have noted these where I have been
aware of them, but have not checked this for all players.
|--||Graf||*** DID NOT PLAY ON CLAY ***|
This allows us to produce a sort of a pseudo-ranking for "best all-surface player." For this we add up a player's ranking on all four surfaces.
* Graf's ranking was calculated by assuming she was last on clay, since she did not play on that surface. If she had done as well on clay as on other surfaces, she would have been #6 in the above list.
Although this is not intended as a ranking, it will be observed
that this list corresponds quite closely with what the rankings
would have been had the 1996 ranking system been used. Once again,
the meaning of this is left as an exercise for the reader. In the
most important race -- that for #1 -- we observe that the surfaces
favour Davenport; she and Hingis are nearly tied for #1 on hardcourts,
and Davenport is better indoors; the surfaces where Hingis is
clearly superior (clay and grass) constitute less than 40% of
the women's schedule.
Tournament Wins by Surface
Here are the number of tournaments each player won on the various surfaces. As elsewhere, tournaments are divided into Major (Tier II and up) and Minor (Tier III and below). Note: In the lists below, "0" and "-" have different meanings. "0" means did not win any of the tournaments of this level she played on this surface. "-" means "Did not play any tournaments of this level on this surface." (Note: For these purposes, the Birmingham tournament, which was not completed, is not counted against the semifinalists, since they were still "alive" when the tournament was rained out.)
The final column lists the number of surfaces on which a player won tournaments.
Thus Davenport, although clearly a power on hardcourts and indoors, does not appear balanced; she has no results on the other surfaces. Novotna's results are also interesting; historically, hardcourts have been her worst surface, and this year's results reflect that. To have done as well as she has without a win on hardcourts (either this year or last) is quite impressive. We also note that Venus Williams and Graf are serious threats; they are the other two players to do particularly well on hardcourts and indoors, which is where the most points are. (Schnyder, of course, stands along with Hingis and Novotna as one of only three players to win on three surfaces, but it should be recalled that four of her five wins were Tier III and below.)
For additional information on results by surface, see the
section on Percentage of Points Earned on Each Surface.
Note: The title of this section may seem to imply that it offers predictions. It does not. Rather, it is an analysis of what players must achieve to accomplish certain objectives. Essentially it analyses how players did in 1998 against what is expected of them.
The list is once again sorted by ranking. All of the Top 20 are included, plus some lower players.
1 & 2 -- Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport
These two were, of course, the dominant players of 1998. The two of them stand very close to each other (Davenport leads Hingis by 5% in the WTA rankings; Hingis leads by 5-10% in most other ranking methods), but they lead the rest of the pack by 25-40%. The chances of any other player joining the Top 2 before the French Open are slight; the odds of someone reaching #2 before Indian Wells are insignificant.
But who will be #1? This is an interesting question. Davenport leads Hingis by just under 300 points -- but Hingis suffered her one and only first round loss of 1998 at Sydney, her first tournament. Thus, a good result for Hingis at Sydney could bring her back to #1. But Hingis must then defend the Australian. But Davenport then has to defend the Pan Pacific. All told, Hingis has 1100 points to defend in these three tournaments, and Davenport has 900. Both have room to improve -- Hingis at Sydney and the Pan Pacific; Davenport at the AO and Sydney. Who will be #1 in February will depend on how well they do in those tournaments. It is worth noting that Davenport has won only one tournament since she became #1, and that one -- Zurich -- was almost uncontested (among the noteworthy players who missed it, usually due to injury, were Hingis, Novotna, ASV, and Seles).
Even if Hingis retakes the #1 ranking, however, she probably will not be able to defend it in the spring. Hingis had a good spring, winning Indian Wells, Hamburg, and Berlin. In that time, Davenport did not win anything, and reached only one final (Indian Wells). In that same period in 1997, Davenport won Oklahoma City, Indian Wells, and Amelia Island. If Davenport can regain that sort of form, she could have a thousand point lead over Hingis going into the clay court season, and possibly maintain it into the French Open.
>From there it gets interesting. Davenport had easy draws at the French and Wimbledon in 1998; Hingis had difficult draws. In addition, Davenport earned just about every available point during the summer hardcourt season. Hingis did poorly during that period. If Hingis gets her game together, she should close the gap significantly. In addition, Davenport cleaned up in the fall indoor season, when Hingis and Graf were injured and Novotna in bad form. Expect Hingis to improve during that period, and Davenport to fall off.
So who will be #1 at the end of 1999? We really cannot tell. Don't count out Davenport or Hingis -- but don't be surprised if it's Graf, either....
Still, the #1 ranking is probably Davenport's to win or lose. Her 70% success rate against the Top 10 is much better than Hingis's not-quite-60% number. Indeed, Davenport decides her own fate much more than Hingis. Hingis did not lose once to a player outside the Top 20; in fact, she only had two losses to players who ended outside the Top 10 (to Kournikova at Berlin and to Van Roost at Filderstadt; the latter was at least partly the result of injury). Davenport, by contrast, had a 70% ratio against the Top 10, a 71% ratio against players ranked #11-#20, and suffered one loss against a player outside the Top 20. If Davenport can clean up her act and eliminate these freak losses, she will be hard to dislodge.
Much will depend, though, on the head-to-head results of the two. Indeed, the difference in their score is entirely due to their head-to-head results; eliminate those points (indeed, just eliminate Davenport's win in the U.S. Open final), and Hingis is ahead. But though Davenport leads the head-to-head by 3-2, the matches overall have been close: Davenport has won seven sets, Hingis six -- and Davenport leads Hingis by a mere two games on the entire year, 64-62. I'd call that a close race.
3 -- Jana Novotna
Novotna spent most of 1998 as a strong #3, occasionally reaching #2. Not any more. A miserable indoor season, culminating in a first-round loss at the Chase, left her 1600 points behind Hingis and only 300 ahead of Sanchez-Vicaro. She is still #3, but very vulnerable -- all the more so given her poor showing against Top Ten players. A #3 player who wins only a third of her matches against the Top 10 is not very strong (particularly since Novotna achieved her 4-8 record without once facing Davenport.
As of when this document was prepared, it had just been announced that Novotna would be playing the Australian Open for the first time in three years. This produces several surprises. For Novotna, it is almost certain to be good (at least in the short term); while her odds of making it past the quarterfinals are poor (and she could go earlier, given that she might face Graf in the round of 16), any points she earns are essentially free. An extra 200-300 points won't change her ranking, but it will help secure her lead over ASV, and make it more likely that she retains the #3 ranking at least until the French Open.
Because Novotna did not play the Australian Open in 1998, the first quarter didn't affect her ranking much. She does have some indoor points to defend, though, and she had a horrible time indoors in late 1998. Barring a strong Australian,if her bad luck indoors continues, she might fall to #4. If her Australian Open result is really weak (which is possible; hardcourts are her worst surface), she could fall to #5. And then she has to defend her grass points -- with Graf back in action and Hingis looking determined again. Novotna might well be around #7 or #8 going into the U.S. Open. The good news for her is that she is the best indoor player in the world, but has nothing to defend in the fall indoor season. If she can recover her indoor form, she should end no lower than #6, and perhaps higher.
4 -- Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
ASV won her first tournament in over a year at Sydney. But she had a lot of help from the Williams Sisters, who took out both Hingis and Davenport. Don't look for it to happen again. Nor is ASV likely to do better at the Australian. Last year, she lost in the quarterfinals -- and this year, if the seeds hold, she will face Seles, Pierce, Martinez, or Venus Williams in the quarters. The only one of those four she is likely to beat is Martinez.
With Seles playing the Australian, and ASV losing her points from Sydney, ASV is likely to fall to #5 or #6 (depending on how Venus Williams does) after the Australian. The good news for her is, she only has one score (semifinals at the Lipton) to defend between the Australian and the clay court season. Still, her 1998 clay season was, by her standards, pretty poor (aside from Roland Garros, of course). Unless she gets back on form, she could be looking at #8 or #9 after the French. The good news for her is that her results against the Top 10 were better than most; she won 7 of 15 matches (including 1 of 2 against Davenport and 2 of 3 against Novotna; she was 0 of 2 against Hingis, whom she has not beaten in over two years).
5 -- Venus Williams
What can one say about Williams? On hardcourts, the only player who clearly exceeds her is Davenport -- but she has yet to prove herself on anything else. She had a very solid first half of 1998, but her second half was weaker. We tend to think of her as being good at upsets -- but in fact she has not done all that well against the top players. She one only one of five matches against Daveport, only two of five against Hingis, and lost her only match against Novotna. We still face the question we faced two years ago: Can she put it together?
More to the point, can she play a full season? By choice, she plays a more limited schedule than most, and that schedule was further limited by chronic knee problems. That is good news as well as bad; she will have had an extra month's rest before the season starts. And Williams is #3 in the world based on the tournaments she plays. A U.S. Open title is not impossible this year. But don't look for her to win any of the other slams, and expect her to hover around #4-#6 until then. Chances are the even a win at the Open will not make her #1; she does not play enough.
The recent announcement that Novotna will play the Australian Open will have an unpredictable effect on Williams. It means that she will be seeded #5, not #4, at the Australian. This means she risks facing Hingis or Davenport (the only players with good odds of beating her) in the quarters instead of the semis, or Graf in the Round of 16. On the other hand, she also gets a shot at Novotna, whom by all odds she should beat on hardcourts, or ASV, who beat her at Sydney last year but cannot be expected to repeat that result.
Right now, Williams is 155 points behind ASV for #4, and a mere 36 points ahead of Seles. She has about 200 points to defend at the Australian. If she draws Novotna or ASV in the quarterfinals, she has good odds to pass ASV. If she draws Hingis or Davenport, her odds are not good; chances are that Seles will pass her and move up to #5.
6 -- Monica Seles
If all goes well, 1999 will feature Seles's first Australian Open in three years in 1999. Thus, the good news is that any points she earns will be gravy. The bad news is, unless she plays Gold Coast or Auckland, she will be the world #6, and seeded #5. This means that she will meet Hingis, Davenport, Sanchez Vicario, or Novotna in the quarterfinals. Against the first two her odds are poor; against the latter two she may feel hopeful but not overconfident. Her record against the top players is poor. Davenport beat her in all three of their meetings. Seles won two of three against Hingis, but two of those were during Hingis's slump; Seles lost their last match and has a poor head-to-head.
Still, the points Seles earns at the Australian should certainly move her up to #5 (since she only needs to pick up 26 points on Williams to do so). Her chances of reaching #4 are good; she is only 190 points behind ASV, and ASV has to defend Sydney. If Seles can reach the AO quarterfinals, her #4 ranking is all but assured; she may not even have to go that far.
If Seles continues to play all spring, she could be #3 going into the Lipton. Indeed, a finalist showing at the Australian could take her there directly. But Seles cannot be considered a favorite in Australia; based on recent numbers, one would have to rate Hingis, Davenport, Graf, and Venus Williams all ahead of her.
After the Lipton, Seles has to start defending points again. Present form makes this seem moderately unlikely; she did better at both the French and Wimbledon than she did the year before. But if there is one thing one can say about Seles, it's that she doesn't follow the probabilities.
7 -- Mary Pierce
Can anyone predict Mary Pierce? She is said to prefer clay, and schedule her season around it -- yet almost all of her best results were indoors. For most of the year, her per-tournament results were better than her WTA ranking -- but that has ceased to be true. When she is on, she is a threat to anyone (she was 8-6 against the Top 10, though she won only one of three matches against both Hingis and Davenport), but when she is off, she is no threat at all. She is prone to problems with her health. This year, she seems to run in streaks. She had a decent start (500 points at the Australian and Paris), and picked up another prize at Amelia Island -- but then followed it with a string of four months (though only four tournaments) where she never earned up more than 75 points. If she can achieve some consistency, and play a full schedule, she might reach Top 5 again -- but those are very large ifs....
8 -- Conchita Martinez
Martinez started off the year with a bang by reaching the Australian Open final. That turned out to be more than half the hardcourt points she earned in the year, and more than a quarter of her total points. With that single exception, everything she accomplished was on clay. Other than the AO, her highest score at a non-clay tournament was 140 (U.S. Open), and there were only two other non-clay tournaments (Indian Wells and Canadian Open) where she earned over 100 points. Nor did she show much evidence of toughness; her record against the Top 10 was a pitiful 1-5. Her only win over a Top 10 player was her defeat of Davenport at the Australian. And even there, she was helped by a very easy draw (she was #8 seed in a section where the #4 seed was the slumping Iva Majoli; in 1999, the top seeds will be Davenport, Hingis, ASV, and Venus Williams. Her odds of repeating her luck are very slim indeed). Without such an easy draw, she is likely to drop by several hundred points after the Australian, which will certainly take her out of the Top 10 and possibly as low as #13 or #14. This will, in turn, cost her some seeding consideration. Unless she has a very strong claycourt season, expect her to end the year in the #12-#15 range.
9 -- Steffi Graf
Assessing Graf's year, and projecting into next year, is perhaps harder than assessing any other player. Graf ended the year at #9 -- but achieved that ranking based on only 13 tournament (4 fewer than Hingis and seven(!) fewer than Davenport). On a per-tournament basis, Graf ended 1998 at #6 or #7 in the world. If she could play a full schedule, the #7 ranking would seem a certainty, and a place in the Top 5 highly possible.
But we have contrasting "and yets." And yet Graf lost half the season to three separate injuries. Can she play a full season? Particularly under Best 18, where a full season is 20-22 tournaments? (Only three of the top ten played 20 or more tournaments, the three being Davenport (20), Tauziat (24), and Schnyder (22). Among the Top 100, however, the average number of tournaments played was 21.9, and the median was 23!)
And yet, at the end of the year, Graf was even better than these numbers. For the entire year, Graf averaged 178 points per tournament. But if we drop off the results from her first comeback, the average for Birmingham through the Chase is 186 points per tournament (#6 in the world); if we reckon from the Canadian Open, the number rises to 269 (second only to Hingis and Davenport), and in her third recovery (Leipzig and following), she cranked it up to 348, exceeding even Hingis's tour-leading 315 points per tournament.
It is also noteworthy that Graf had the best record against the Top 10 -- 8 wins, 3 losses; 73% success rate -- of any player on the list. The only Top 10 player she lost against was Davenport. Now it is easy to make too much of those statistics. For one thing, in the early part of the year Graf had special seeding. This meant that she did not face many Top 10 players; she was eliminated by the Sernas and Sugiyamas and Appelmans of the world before reaching the big girls. In addition, her win over Hingis came in only Hingis's second match back; two of the wins were over Novotna, whom she owns; two more were over Tauziat, who is the least of the Top 10. Still, Graf beat Seles at the Chase, and Davenport twice (Pilot Pen and Philadelphia; the only other player to beat Davenport twice was Hingis).
So which Graf will we see in 1999? I certainly can't tell. My original forecast was based on Graf being seeded #8 at that Australian Open. But with Novotna playing in Australia, she will be seeded #9. This potentially affects Graf more than almost anyone else. How she does from here depends very much on her draw. Still, if she holds her seed, she can expect to pick up about 120 points. A quarterfinal would move her over 200 points. This would move her to #7 (though with a very large gap below #6). Assuming decent results over the spring, she could well be Top 5 by the French Open. From there, who can say? If she stays healthy, the #1 rank seems to be within reach, given that neither Hingis nor Davenport seems to want it, and nobody else seems even to be dreaming of it. Or she could have another injury....
10 -- Nathalie Tauziat
Tauziat holds a number of dubious distinctions on the ranking list. She is the highest-ranked player not to have won a tournament. She had the most losses of any player in the Top 10, and had the lowest winning percentage (fifteenth in the world). She lost in the first round of fully a quarter of the tournaments she played. Her only win against a Top 10 player (in twelve tries) was against Davenport at Wimbledon. (Indeed, with that single exception, the highest-ranked player she beat was Spirlea.) Thus, she is (after Davenport) the biggest beneficiary of the Best 18 "Losses Don't Count" ranking system.
And yet, there is reason to believe that Tauziat can improve her ranking. Last year, she did not play the Australian Open or any tournament prior to Paris. It is reported that she will again be skipping this part of the season, but if she does decide to play, decent results in the first month should bring her up at least 200 points, which would allow her to pass Martinez (who will probably fall out of the #8 spot) into the #9 position. Then comes the spring indoor season. Last year, Tauziat's results at this time were unexceptional (about 220 points in three tournaments). If she can play as well in the spring as she did in the fall indoor season, she could pick up another 200-300 points. This might move her as high as #7. Then comes the clay season. Tauziat is French, but her clay results were pitiful (her best result was about 60 points; she lost first round at Roland Garros). Decent results on clay could make up for the points she probably can't defend at Wimbledon. Thus Tauziat, even in her early thirties, has a shot at about the #6 ranking. Will she make it? No bets, but she knows what she has to do....
11 -- Patty Schnyder
In mid-1998, commentators were making a lot of noise about how Patty Schnyder led the WTA Tour in tournament wins. They failed to mention one not-so-trivial detail: Four of her five wins were in Tier III or Tier IV events (she was the highest-ranked player to play a Tier IV, and she played three of them), and the fifth (Hannover), while a Tier II, was one of the weaker Tier II events.
There is a very strong divide between the Tier III and Tier II events. Players who can win regularly at the lower level often do poorly when crossing the line. It remains to be seen whether Schnyder will try to "graduate," and if so, how well she will do. Schnyder earned over a quarter of her points in the low-level events -- roughly three times the fraction earned by Mary Pierce, the Top 10 player who earned the most at Tier III events.
Schnyder also had trouble against the top players. She won four of ten matches against the Top 10, but only one of four against the Top 3. She was 7-2 against #11-#20 (with her only losses being to the hot prospects in that group, Kournikova and Serena Williams). Thus Schnyder seems to be positioned right about where she ought to be: Just outside the Top 10. She is formidable against players below that level. Against those within the Top 10, she isn't much of a threat.
As far as her prospects go, Schnyder has much better odds of going down than up in the early part of the year. She earned nearly 700 points in the first six tournaments of the year, the third-best score in the world in that time (behind Hingis and Davenport, but slightly ahead of Martinez and Huber).
12 -- Dominique Van Roost
Van Roost played a total of 25 tournaments, more than anyone ranked above her, and it helped her noticeably. Taken individually, her results were unspectacular; the only tournament she won was Auckland, a Tier IV.
Van Roost may face a difficult time in the early part of next year; although she had only fair results on the Asian hardcourts (250 points in three events), she picked up about 500 points in the spring indoor season. After that she went into a decline; her best result between Indian Wells and Wimbledon was losing the final of a Tier III. Other than that, she never earned as many as 100 points in a tournament. Her score on American hardcourts verged on the pitiful; 122 points in four tournaments, with two first-round losses. Then things went back indoors, and she earned about 700 points -- a third of her total -- in the indoor events. All told, she earned 60% of her points indoors -- a number which is almost frightening. Her quality numbers are equally unbalanced. Van Roost was won 4 of 11 against the Top 10, and 7 of 20 against the Top 20. But of those seven wins, six, including all four wins against Top 10 players, were indoors (def. Hingis/Filderstadt; def. Williams/Filderstadt; def. Martinez/Chase; def. Tauziat/Paris; def. Kournikova/Zurich; def. Zvereva/Leipzig). Her only win over a Top 20 player on an outdoor surface was her victory over Farina at Auckland -- and even that was hard-fought.
Van Roost must defend those early points in Asia and indoors if she is to stay in the Top 15. If she is to improve her ranking, she must earn some points outdoors. She also needs to win more than 78% of her matches against non-Top-20 players. If she manages that, she could become fixed in the Top 10. If she doesn't she may fall out of the Top 20.
13 -- Anna Kournikova
Kournikova had a peculiar year: Decent beginning, strong middle, injury, recovery, decline. Overall, she had seven wins over players who ended in the Top 10 -- placing her in a tie with Sanchez Vicario for sixth on that list (behind Davenport, 21; Hingis, 14; Venus Williams, 9; Pierce, Graf, 8). Her results from Indian Wells to Eastbourne (about 1275 points) were the third best in the world, behind only Hingis (nearly 1800) and Sanchez Vicario (1550) -- but well ahead of Davenport (1125), Venus Williams (1125), Novotna (1100), and Seles (1025). At that time she entered the Top 10 (for a week) -- but it ended with the thumb injury that cost her two months. When she came back, she couldn't serve, and earned fewer than 400 points in the whole rest of the year.
If she manages to get her serve back in the off-season, she could make 1999 an interesting time for a lot of people; this year, for the first time, she will be consistently seeded. This should help her at the Australian, and probably at a number of other events. Her first half results, if projected over a year, would give her on the order of 3000 points and the #6 or #7 ranking -- and even that might be conservative, as many of those results were earned without benefit of seeding.
But this has its drawbacks as well as advantages. If she does not have her serve back, she has a lot of points to defend in the first half of the year. Either Kournikova is going to move up quickly (if she's back, she should be Top Ten to stay by March) or she is going to fall hard (if she is not back, she will probably be out of the Top 30 after the French). It should be remembered, though, that she missed Wimbledon last year, and that her grass results have been spectacular (Wimbledon semis 1997; beat Graf at Eastbourne this year). If she can defend her points, stay uninjured, and do well at Wimbledon, she could be conceivably Top 5 by the end of next year.
14 -- Sandrine Testud
1998 was mostly a year of frustration for Testud (eleven losses to non-Top-20 players), with one big moment when she beat Davenport to win Filderstadt. (Her only other two wins over Top 10 players were over a still-rusty Seles at Rome and over an indoors-hating Martinez at Moscow.) The win at Filderstadt was worth as much as her next two results combined, and is largely responsible for keeping her in the Top 20. Her results next year will depend on whether she has more or fewer of these lucky wins. If she doesn't manage at least one (or its equivalent in the form of a strong showing in a Slam), she will fall to the #18-#22 range. If she can have two such showings, she might reach #10 or so. Her odds of going higher are poor.
15 -- Irina Spirlea
Irina Spirlea is another question mark. Occasionally she comes through and astonishes a top player (she beat Davenport and Seles at Hilton head, ASV at the Chase, and Martinez at Zurich). More often, she rolls over and plays dead to someone who clearly isn't as good as she is (even against #11-#20, her record was only 3-6). In the last two years, she has won one tournament (Strasbourg), on clay. Yet her best results, overall, have been indoors. As it stands now, her ranking is as high as it is only because she plays so much (26 tournaments, tied with Farina for second among the Top 20; Testud led in this dubious category with 27 events played). And it was just as well; Spirlea was the last player to qualify for the Chase Championships (she qualified only because Venus Williams did not play), and without the 265 points she earned there, she would have ended the year no better than #18 and out of line for a seed at the 1999 Australian Open. In the next year, Spirlea is either going to have to fulfill some of her potential or risk falling out of the Top 20. If there is a bright spot in all of this, it is that Serena Williams will be seeded at the 1999 Lipton, and Spirlea won't have to face her until at least the third round.... In addition, Spirlea began 1998 very badly; pure luck of the draw gives her a fair chance to improve her fortunes. But she may be playing too much; she was the only player in the Top 15 to play all four slams and all nine Tier I events, plus the Chase -- and twelve other tournaments!
16 -- Natasha Zvereva
Zvereva has one tremendous result this year, her semifinal showing at Wimbledon with wins over Graf and Seles. She also picked up 163 points on the grass at Eastbourne (including a win over Venus Williams), giving her 669 grass points. Other than that, her best results were on the order of 125 points (Australian, Indian Wells, Sydney, Philadelphia), mostly on hardcourts. She had only four wins (in eleven tries) over Top 10 players: The three grass wins mentioned, plus a win over Novotna at Philadelphia. Indeed, even against the rest of the Top 20, she only had two more wins (over Spirlea at Indian Wells and over Coetzer at Sydney). She might as well not even have bothered with clay. And yet her biggest-ever result (French Open final) was on clay. If she can bring some life into her clay and/or indoor game, or start beating the Top 20 more than 26% of the time, she can move up. If she can't, watch for her to drop out of the Top 20 after next year's Wimbledon.
17 -- Amanda Coetzer
Coetzer started 1998 with what should have been a huge advantage: The #4 ranking. She did nothing with it; by the end of the year, she had fallen back to the sort of ranking (low Top 20) she had at the end of 1996.The fact that she did so poorly, even with the advantage of the seeding, suggests that 1999 will be even more difficult for her. This is particularly so since almost all of her best results were in the first half of the year; of the seven events where she earned 100 or more points, four (Australian, Pan Pacific, Hilton Head, Amelia Island) came in the first three months of the year, and included the biggest win of her career (Hilton Head). Coetzer needs desperately to defend those points (51% of her total); in the last six months of the year, she was not Top 20. Indeed, many of her numbers are scary: A pitiful ten matches against the Top 10 (meaning she lost before she could face them), and only two wins in those ten: over ASV at Philadelphia and over Martinez at Amelia Island. Even against non-top-20 players she won barely more than two matches in three. This is deadly.
To make matters worse, she will be seeded at the Australian Open only on the sufferance of Nathalie Tauziat. Tauziat's reported decision to skip Melbourne will give Coetzer the sixteenth and last seed.
On the other hand, if Coetzer can defend the point she earned in the first half of the year and do equally well in the second half, or even just live up to her abilities on red clay (where she earned fewer than a hundred points despite playing four tournaments; all her clay court points were on American green clay), she might return to the Top 10.
18 -- Ai Sugiyama
Sugiyama must suffer severely from jet lag. Her three biggest results (Gold Coast, Sydney, Japan Open) were all in Pacific nations; indeed, of the five tournaments where she earned over 100 points, four were in the Pacific (the only exception is Berlin). She does not seem to have a preferred surface; although she did well on Asian hardcourts, her results on American hardcourts were poor.
Under the circumstances, the only way for her to improve her ranking is to simply improve her results.
Her immediate concern is to defend her early results; she earned about 450 points -- nearly a third of her total -- in the first three weeks of the season.
19 -- Silvia Farina
If every anyone exemplified the rule, "Slow but steady wins the race," it is Farina. She did not win a single tournament. She reached four finals, but all were in Tier III or Tier IV events. Noteworthy upsets were few and far between (she did beat Tauziat twice -- the second of these, at Luxembourg, being her only win over a Top 10 player -- plus Testud at Auckland, Sugiyama and Coetzer at the Lipton, Van Roost at Rome, Kournikova at Moscow, and Spirlea at Luxembourg). Yet she made it, somehow, into the Top 20 (admittedly with some help from the ranking system; she played 26 tournaments).
Overall, her results were fairly consistent: Not many big wins (only once, at Luxembourg, did she earn more than 200 points), but no really bad patches. Her record against the Top 10 was only two wins in thirteen tries, and she never beat anyone ranked higher than Tauziat. But her record against players outside the Top 20 was a reasonably solid 82%. Overall, Farina's best results were indoors, but she seems to be competent (if no more than that) on all surfaces except perhaps grass. If she continues as she was, she should stay in the #18-#22 range. To go much higher, she will have to win some of those finals she so consistently lost.
20 -- Serena Williams
If we simply consider results per tournament, Serena Williams is already Top 10. On her best days, she has the physical ability to beat anyone. (Mental ability is another question.) The only reason she is ranked as low as she is is her limited schedule; she played only 11 tournaments in 1998. But no other player ranked as low as she is has as good a record; her winning percentage against the Top 20 is 55%; to find another player with a percentage that high, one must go all the way to #11 and Schnyder.
It should be noted, though, that Williams was only 4 of 11 against the Top 10, with a win over Davenport at Sydney, one over Novotna at Filderstadt, and wins over Tauziat and Martinez at Rome. There were at least two more matches she could have won but didn't. This indicates that she does not, yet, have the ability to tough out a match.
If in 1999 she plays anything resembling a full schedule, it seems nearly certain that she will reach the Top 15 next year. To get beyond that, though, will require a breakthrough win -- and, so far, she does not seem capable of it. How far she goes in 1999 depends more on her mind (and her health) than anything else. She could easily be Top Ten. Whether she will be is entirely up to her.
21 -- Anke Huber
Huber's situation is difficult; although her per-tournament results put her around #16, she spent so much time hurt this year that she fell out of the Top 20. And next year will be hard for her; she earned over a third of her points at the Australian Open. If she cannot defend those points, she will fall out of the Top Thirty. She should be able to regain much of the ground by the end of the year, but it will be much harder since she will not be seeded. She could well end 1999 ranked around #15, but a rank around #20 is more likely. Her chances of breaking back into the Top 10 are slight. This is especially true given her miserable record of one win (over ASV at the Australian Open) over a Top 10 player in ten tries in 1998. (Curiously, she did better against #11-#20 than against the field; she was 7-2 against the second 10 -- her only losses being to Kournikova and Testud -- but won only about 70% of her matches -- 16-7 -- against lower-ranked players.)
22 -- Julie Halard-Decugis
Halard-Decugis was injured for so long prior to this year that it is easy to forget that she was once a Top 15 player. Her results this year were relatively modest; she won two tournaments, but both were low-level (the Heineken Trophy and Pattaya) played at times when most top-level players were involved in other things (in the former case, Eastbourne or resting for Wimbledon; in the latter, the Chase). But it should be remembered that she spent most of this year scrambling to get back in form. She spent the whole year climbing the rankings. If she continues as she was, she could perhaps make it back to #15 or so in 1999. To go higher, though, she will have to improve her record of one win (against ASV in New Haven) in nine tries against the Top 10. Her record against non-Top-20 players is a solid 80%.
23 -- Barbara Schett
It says something or other when a player was playing qualifyings as recently as Filderstadt, but still managed to finish the year at #23. Among Schett's other accomplishments, she was the highest-ranked player to have no wins over a Top 10 player (her biggst win was over Schnyder, in three sets, at Zurich, but Schnyder beat her on two other occasions; Schett also beat Zvereva at the Australian and split two meetings with Coetzer; this gave her three wins in thirteen tries against players in the #11-#20 range). Her only serious results were the semis at Hamburg (Tier II), the semis at Madrid (Tier III), runner-up at Palermo (Tier IV), and runner-up at Boston (Tier III). She had eight first-round losses. The way for her to improve her ranking is obvious: She has to win more. Anywhere. On anything. Against anyone.
24 -- Magui Serna
Magui Serna established something of a reputation in 1998 as a "giant-killer." This can be exaggerated; she had only four wins over Top 10 players (over Novotna at Hilton Head and Hamburg, over Pierce at the French, and over Graf at the Canadian Open); this was in ten tries. Her results against the second 10 were feeble; one win (over Schnyder at Moscow) in ten tries. But four wins in ten tries is still a solid figure for a player ranked so low; such numbers would usually result in a player ranked around #15. Why is Serna so low? Early-round losses. Her winning percentage is barely above 50%. In her first six tournaments this year, she won one match (against McQuillan at the Australian Open). In the remaining nineteen tournaments of the year, she suffered only five first-round losses (with three of them in a row: New Haven, U.S. Open, Filderstadt). Thus, Serna appears to have trouble on hardcourts and indoors; she may also be subject to severe slumps. If she can cure those, her positive results should take her at least to the Top 15.
25 -- Iva Majoli
Majoli has an interesting if minor distinction: She played fewer tournaments than any other player ranked between 22 and 30. Thus, after having been over-ranked for most of the last two years (on the strength of the large number of tournaments she played), she is finally starting to be under-ranked again. Perhaps more importantly, she earned less than 500 points on clay this year. Admittedly these constitute 40% of her total -- but for her this is an almost trivial number. If she can ever figure out what has gone wrong since the 1997 French Open, she should at least be able to get back into the Top 20, and probably the Top 15. The Top 10 will be harder; she will not have the advantage of seeding this year, and the youngsters are making the Top 10 appear awfully crowded. (It is axiomatic that, at any given time, the Top 10 can only contain ten players -- but the commentators seem to think at least twenty women belong there...). In addition, she had only one win over a Top 10 player (Martinez, French Open) in eight chances, and her only other win over a Top 20 player was also at the French (Zvereva). To get above #15, she will have to improve those numbers at least slightly.
Whatever Happened To...
Of the players in the Top 20 at the beginning of 1998, no fewer than three fell out of the top 50 in the course of the year, and several more fell to the 40-50 range. This section "looks back" on these lost players and their prospects.
Mary Joe Fernandez
Starting Rank: 10
Ending Rank: Outside the Top 50
1998 was a year of horrors for Fernandez. She lost the whole first half of the year, and wound up playing only eight tournaments. Worse, they weren't even big tournaments. She ended the year at #76, and having to qualify for events.
The good news is, she is better than that. On a per-tournament basis, she is still in the #20-#30 range. Although she had some sad losses (some of them attributable to physical problems and lack of practice), she also put up some fairly decent results, winning several matches which, by the rankings, she should have lost badly (e.g. over Pierce at the Canadian Open and over Van Roost and Testud at New Haven).
If there is a bright spot in 1999, it's that she finally seems to be back, and has absolutely nothing to defend in the first half of the year. Given a decent draw at the Australian Open, she could move up several dozen places. If she can stay injury-free, she might even by Top 30 by the time Wimbledon concludes.
But, of course, such advances are harder for a non-seeded player. She cannot really hope to move much above #20 this year. She might do better in 2000 -- but will she keep playing that long?
Starting Rank: 15
Ending Rank: Outside the Top 100
At the end of 1997, Schultz-McCarthy was clinging to a rather precarious #15 position (precarious because it took her 26 tournaments to pick up her 1543 points; the #15 player in 1998, be it noted, had 1830 points...). But then she was injured, and lost a large part of the year.
Now Schultz-McCarthy was already something rather like the First Coming of Lindsay Davenport: Big, big shots, but her movement made Mary Pierce look fast. She survived as well as she did on her monster serve. Unfortunately, her injury was to her back, and she's now in her late twenties. Chances are the serve will never be quite the same. Don't expect to see her in the Top 20 again. On the other hand, if she can get healthy, a place in the Top 30 is not impossible.
Starting Rank: 10
Ending Rank: 49
For years, Sabine Appelmans was a solid player. Not great; she never even threatened the Top 10. But consistently in the #15-#25 range. This year, something went wrong. It doesn't seem to have been physical (she managed to play 20 tournaments, and didn't show up on the injury list), but she just didn't accomplish anything. (It's rather scary to note that over one-tenth of her points were derived from one match: her win over Graf -- who then carried a special ranking of #3 -- at Hannover.)
To make matters worse, most of those points were picked up in the early part of the year, so if she doesn't pick things up in 1999, she will fall even further.
The good news is, although Appelmans played 20 tournaments, a lot of them were low-grade events and challengers. She seemed almost not to exist in the summer, and missed the U.S. Open entirely. She also lost first round in Australia. So she has room to improve. She may not make Top 20 again -- the Top 20 is getting very crowded these days -- but at least she could achieve direct entry into tournaments....
Starting Rank: 19
Ending Rank: 38
Unlike Fernandez and Schultz-McCarthy, Dragomir was not bothered by injuries in 1998; unlike Appelmans, she played all year. So why did she drop so precipitously? The answer appears to be that she didn't drop; she returned to her usual level. The fluke is her 1997 ranking.
Looking back over the records, Dragomir was one of the first to realize the benefits of the 1997 ranking system. She ended 1997 with 27 tournaments played -- tied with Coetzer for the most among the Top 30. But she started playing extra events earlier than most players. The result was that she started to earn seedings. And seeding pays for itself; that brought her ranking higher still.
But eventually the other players caught up, and Dragomir started getting fewer seeds. As that happened, she suffered more early losses, and the result is obvious.
Starting Rank: 20
Ending Rank: Outside the Top 50
Basuki had some bad luck this year, in more ways than one. She is an aggressive player who likes grass, but her semifinal at Birmingham (which she was nearly certain to win, as she was playing Likhovtseva, who does not like fast conditions) was rained out. At Wimbledon she had a bad draw. Combine that and some other factors, and her singles ranking took a beating (she ended at #56). Nor will she ever be able to recover that rank -- though not for the usual reasons. She is retiring.
The Expected 1999 Top Ten
This year, the Top Two were clear: Hingis and Davenport. They had no real rivals. The best bet to join them in 1999 is Graf. Venus Williams also has her chances. Seles does not look quite as strong, but is still a good prospect. These are the probably Top Five.
Of the other members of the Top 10, Martinez and Tauziat are both there on the strength of a surprise Slam final appearance. The chances of them repeating are not good. ASV, Pierce, and Novotna are not as strong as the Big Five, but should be able to hold their places in the Top 10.
So who will occupy the #9 and #10 spots? If they fulfill their potentials, the obvious candidates are Kournikova and Serena Williams. Their abilities are Top Ten -- indeed, Kournikova looked like Top Five in the first part of the year, and we all know about the matches Serena Williams shouldn't have lost. It all depends on whether Kournikova can rediscover her serve, and whether Williams can discover her brain. If they don't manage it, Schnyder and Van Roost are the best prospects, at least as long as the WTA sticks with the Best 18 system.
So here is one last forecast, though I do not expect it to come true. This is merely the least unlikely set of names for the 1999 Top Ten. As in 1998, they will fall into several groups:
1. Hingis (or Davenport or Graf)
4. V. Williams (or Seles)
6. Novotna (or ASV or Pierce)
7. Sanchez Vicario
9. Kournikova (or S. Williams)
10. S. Williams
Beyond this I will not go.
All information in this document in copyright © 1998 by Robert B. Waltz, except the official WTA rankings and results, which are copyright by the Corel WTA Tour.