After the All England Club elected to ban Russian and Belarussian tennis players from the 2022 Championships, the reaction from the wider tennis public was divided. In contrast, the ATP, WTA, and ITF were (uncharacteristically) united and quickly acted to remove all ranking points from the event.
One of the founding principles upon which the action was based was that of rankings integrity.
The three governing bodies stated that the integrity of the ranking system must be protected and if a select group of players could not participate based solely on their nationality, then ranking points must be stripped for one and for all irrespective of the extraordinary global circumstances.
In a sport that is the ultimate meritocracy, this was undoubtedly an enormous decision with substantial implications.
With both tours having returned to a 52-week ranking system after some COVID-19-induced temporary measures, a player's points from the previous year fall off at the end of each tournament and are replaced with those earned from the current event. If a player does not equal or better their previous result, they lose ground on their competitors.
Therefore, the effects of the Wimbledon decision are two-fold. Firstly, those who performed well in the 2021 event were not able to defend those points and maintain their ranking. Equally, those who out-performed their 2021 result, did not receive just reward for their success.
No one wins in a system where no ranking points are awarded. It’s just a question of whether a player loses out more or less than their competitors.
The First Serve looks at some examples of how the rankings would look in an alternate reality where ranking points were not stripped from the 2022 Wimbledon Championships.
The WTA Tour
Elena Rybakina (current ranking: #23, alternate ranking: #6)
In ordinary circumstances, after winning her maiden slam, Rybakina would have been awarded 2000 points to accompany an enormous pay cheque and instant fame. However, after making the fourth round as the 18th seed in 2021 (def by Sabalenka), Rybakina lost 240 points off her total and, despite winning in 2022, lost ground to her peers.
In an alternate reality, Rybakina would be ranked 6th in the world and only a few hundred points off being world number 3.
Such a ranking would make for a softer run at the upcoming US Open too.
Instead, with a ranking below 16, it’s possible the Wimbledon Champion could face top seed Iga Swiatek or her Wimbledon rival Ons Jabeur in the third round at Flushing Meadows.
Moreover, it appears Rybakina will also miss the end-of-year championships – a tournament that awards huge prize money and big ranking points – as she sits 19th in the Race to the WTA Finals with the top eight qualifying. Had her Wimbledon points counted, she’d sit third behind only Jabeur and Swiatek.
Ajla Tomljanovic (C: #69 A: #38)
Tomljanovic was one of the big losers in this entire ordeal. After a brilliant quarter-final showing in 2021, Tomljanovic rose to the occasion again to cement herself as one of the tour’s best grass-court performers with another quarter-final effort. For her success, Tomljanovic fell from 44 to 69 in the ranks. The 430 points Tomljanovic would’ve earned would have her at 38th in the world with direct entry into any tournament worldwide and a possible seeding on offer at the US Open.
However, having dropped outside the top 50, Tomljanovic was forced to enter qualifying for the Toronto Masters 1000 where she barely scraped through after two tight wins.
Ons Jabeur (C: #5 A: #2)
Jabeur’s runner-up performance at the hands of Rybakina was an extraordinary effort as the first Arabian-African woman to make a slam final. However, despite surpassing her quarter-final effort in 2021 (def by Sabalenka), Jabeur slipped down the rankings from number 2 (which is exactly what her ranking would be with her runner-up effort) to number 5 and fell further behind tour leader Iga Swiatek.
The ATP Tour
Nick Kyrgios (C: #37 A: #15)
After winning the Citi Open double last week in Washington, DC. Kyrgios not only rose to 37 in the world and 21st in the Race to Turin but he has also established himself as one of the form players on tour having won 19 of his last 20 matches (doubles included) when considering his electric run at Wimbledon.
Had he earned the customary 1200 points for a runner-up performance at Wimbledon, Kyrgios would be 15th in the world and sit just outside automatic qualification for Turin. A ranking much more befitting of a player in his hot form.
Alternatively, Kyrgios is unseeded in Montreal and still outside seedings for the US Open.
The seeded players likely to draw Kyrgios first (such as Medvedev in Montreal) can count themselves unlucky.
Novak Djokovic (C: #6 A: #2)
Seeing Djokovic outside the world’s top 3, even considering his vaccination status affected ability to play tour-level events, feels wrong. In our alternate reality, Djokovic would still be number 2 in the world behind Medvedev.
However, his ranking bears little relevance in the coming month with Djokovic currently unable to travel to Canada or the USA given current border restrictions. If Djokovic is unable to qualify for Turin it will be a big loss for the event given his Wimbledon triumph would all but assure his entry.
Jason Kubler (C: #119 A: #77)
Having briefly re-entered the top 100, Kubler now sits some 50 points outside at 119th.
With his fourth-round appearance at the All England Club, Kubler would sit at 77th and allow him to be a bit more comfortable.
Whilst he is guaranteed a US Open main draw berth, courtesy of his ranking being at 96 at the time of the entry cut off, should injury strike (again), or his form drop, Kubler won’t have the luxury to rely on his beefed-up ranking to continue playing tour-level events, and dropping down to the challenger level may be his only option which is a much less comfortable life for a professional.
Ultimately, once it was determined that Russian and Belarusian players were not going to be allowed to compete at Wimbledon, the All England Club was never going to retreat from that position for it would be deemed the exact thing they were trying to avoid – a political win for Russia and Belarus.
The only question is whether the decision not to award ranking points at this year’s Championships has created a less-legitimate ranking system than otherwise as the rankings are no longer reflective of the current pecking order on tour.
This writer would suggest it has.