Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and the curious case of protecting rankings

Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and the curious case of protecting rankings

What was thoughts boggling was that Barty’s 1351 factors lead over Naomi Osaka and 1931 factors over Simona Halep was due virtually completely to tournaments she had performed (and carried out properly at) over a yr earlier than.

As Naomi Osaka stood in entrance of cheering crowds at Melbourne Park to provide the customary winner’s speech final weekend, her poise, her physique language, the phrases of encouragement to her opponent, left no room for doubt that she is tennis’ new celebrity.

With 4 Grand Slam singles titles up to now three years, a degree of consistency no different participant on the ladies’s circuit has proven in that interval, Osaka ought to by all rights be the World No 1. However she shouldn’t be. As a substitute, for the previous eighteen months, a interval wherein she has received no titles of any type, that heavy mantle has rested on the shoulder of a unprecedented younger lady of Aboriginal origin, a rarity in Australian sport.

Make no mistake, Ashleigh Barty is a uncommon sporting expertise. She rose to be among the many crème de la crème of ladies’s tennis, then received tired of the game and took a break from the courts. She then performed cricket on the Ladies’s BBL. Duly rejuvenated, she then waltzed by means of the sector to win the 2019 French Open, and as simply reward for her consistency, ended the yr at World No 1.

This time her occasional romance with tennis lasted till the pandemic swept the world final yr. In the course of the lockdowns that all of us confronted in 2020, sportspersons used no matter area they’d at their disposal – gardens, garages, empty seashores, the river banks – to remain match and observe their sport as greatest they may. All besides Ash Barty.

When aggressive tennis returned through the yr in safe bio bubble environments, Barty selected to select up her golf golf equipment as a substitute, getting down to show her prowess at yet one more sport. And he or she did. On a course designed by Greg Norman, she claimed the Brookwater Golf Membership girls’s title close to Brisbane, with a commanding 7 and 5 triumph within the matchplay last.

When requested why she wasn’t returning to competitors within the sport the place she at the moment stood on the pinnacle, Barty cited her lack of preparedness. For good measure, she added that her well being and the security of her household and group had been paramount, so she didn’t need to journey. Truthful sufficient, or ‘no dramas mate’, because the Aussies would say.

It didn’t nevertheless forestall her from displaying up on the terraces of the Gabba in Brisbane…. to look at an Australian Soccer League playoff sport. Footage of Ash Barty rising to her ft within the crowded stadium, sans social distancing, pumping her fist whereas holding a cup of beer within the different hand, went viral on social media in Australia. Followers hailed “a real icon.”

Nobody on the planet would have cared, however for slightly administrative element known as modified protecting rating that the tennis authorities had felt obliged to introduce whereas the pandemic had shut down sport. Underneath these circumstances (initially meant for injured gamers, and modified for COVID), each accidents and unwillingness to play citing well being issues would permit gamers to retain factors earned in 2019 regardless of not showing on the explicit event in 2020. Nevertheless, if a participant did present up, this safety disappeared, and their factors relied on the efficiency on the present version of the event.

The curious case of Ash Barty has now turned this well-meaning rule right into a heavy cross on the shoulders of gamers who braved the pandemic to play the game they love. They survived the discomfort and lonely existence of bubbles and the onerous quarantines, however have struggled to cope with the modified protected rating circumstances. None extra so than Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka.

Halep, like lots of the gamers around the globe who had been nervous concerning the surge in COVID instances in the US, determined to keep away from the journey to New York. As a substitute, she targeting the clay court docket swing in Europe. She received first the Prague Open after which the Italian Open after weeks of struggling by means of new well being protocols at minor tournaments throughout Europe. In her first event again, she beat third-seed Elise Marten, and at Rome she stormed previous World No 4 Karolina Pliskova. With that, Halep moved as much as World No 2. Her subsequent two targets had been the title on the pandemic delayed French Open, and the year-end high spot within the WTA rankings.

She achieved neither. The primary was her personal failing, as she was felled within the fourth spherical at Roland Garros by unseeded Iga Swiatek of Poland. By all rights Halep’s second goal ought to have been computerized, as a result of she had the best factors amongst energetic gamers within the WTA. However that’s the place the cruel actuality of the protected rating got here into play. Even supposing Ash Barty had not stepped outdoors Australia in 9 months nor performed any tennis within the interim, because the defending French Open champion, Barty retained her factors and ended the yr at World No 1.

Quick ahead to February 2021.

Naomi Osaka had not performed on the French Open in 2020, however a month earlier than that, ranked ninth on the planet, she had received her third Grand Slam singles title at Flushing Meadows. Gaining 2000 precious factors at her house Grand Slam, she crept quietly moved up the rankings. By the point Osaka stepped on to the court docket in Melbourne for the Gippsland Trophy, one of many lesser tournaments that preceded the Australian Open, she had moved as much as third within the WTA rankings.

On the Australian Open, going through probably the most troublesome area that ladies’s tennis may throw up, Osaka got here into her personal and confirmed us why she wears the mantle of ‘celebrity’ so flippantly on her shoulders. Blazing by means of a listing of opponents that counted former Grand Slam title winner Garbine Muguruza and 23-time title winner on the highest degree of ladies’s tennis – Serena Williams, Osaka brushed apart the problem of large killer Su-Wei Hsieh, and imperiously dispatched the proficient Jennifer Brady. With a demure smile on her face, the younger Japanese stood composedly on the microphone final Sunday, holding up her fourth Grand Slam title.

With the 2000 factors she picked up along with her second Main title in six months, Osaka had now moved 600 factors away from Simona Halep to the highest of the WTA rating pile. Properly, not fairly. For firmly entrenched at No 1 was Ash Barty who had performed her first event in a yr the week earlier than the Australian Open and bowed out on the quarter-finals at Melbourne park.

What was thoughts boggling was that Barty’s 1351 factors lead over Naomi Osaka and 1931 factors over Simona Halep was due virtually completely to tournaments she had performed (and carried out properly at) over a yr earlier than.

Naomi Osaka Ashleigh Barty and the curious case of protective rankings

Naomi Osaka received the Australian Open for a second time by beating Jennifer Brady within the last. AP

Barty has been ranked No 1 on the planet from 9 September, 2019. Since then she has received one event in October 2019 at Shenzhen and by the point the subsequent title at Yarra Valley bore her title, it had been a yr for the reason that younger Australian had set foot on a event court docket. In a choice that’s rightfully her personal to take, she had chosen well being over sport.

The pandemic has impacted every certainly one of us. But it surely has been notably troublesome for elite sportspersons, with the calls for of performing persistently at their bodily and psychological peak whereas staying away for months from their households, residing in bio bubbles, and enduring onerous quarantines in nation after nation. That is even earlier than we think about the stress of continuous COVID testing and coping with the each day risk of an infection, regardless of taking all precautions. But, these younger women and men have braved all odds to ply their craft and provides us the succour of sports activities within the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. For that we needs to be very grateful to them. We might not understand it, however we owe as a lot to them for our psychological well being, as we do to frontline well being staff for guaranteeing our bodily well-being in these troublesome instances.

It’s on this backdrop that some questions must be requested concerning the WTA rankings system and the impression of COVID guidelines that impression it. There isn’t any doubt about the truth that the state of affairs the skewed rankings current immediately in girls’s tennis shouldn’t be Ash Barty’s doing. She has merely been a beneficiary of it. Having stated that, when a World No 1 in any sport stays atop on the rankings for 73-weeks straight, one must take a detailed take a look at what has ensued in that point and query the flawed system in drive that has perpetuated it.

The modified protected rankings in tennis have been in place for each women and men. Novak Djokovic has occupied the highest spot on the ATP desk since 03 February 2020. He has performed 9 tournaments throughout three continents in that point, braving journey and bio bubbles. The Serb has received 4 of them, misplaced within the finals at Roland Garros and the semi-finals of the yr ending event at London. Clearly, he deserves to be within the pole place.

The query that Osaka could possibly be forgiven for asking immediately, is – does Ash Barty?

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