By consensus, by the evidence in front of our eyes over the past few months and from the her own words, Serena Williams is the best player in the world when she is fully healthy and on her game. Wins at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open proved she remains the star of women’s tennis but it is likely she will have to wait until the new year before she can regain the No 1 ranking.
Going into this week’s event in Tokyo, where nine of the top 10 are playing and where Serena is the only absentee, the American lies around 2,300 points behind world No 1 Victoria Azarenka. Now while Serena has nothing to defend until 2013 and while Azarenka did do well in the corresponding period last time, it would need a big turnaround to knock the Belarussian off the top spot before the Australian Open.
Of course on her recent form it is entirely possible that Serena could win her two remaining tournaments – in Beijing and then the WTA Championships in Istanbul – but she would still need Azarenka to lose early in all of her remaining events to overtake her. On the form Azarenka showed at the US Open, when she pushed Serena all the way in the final, that seems unlikely.
That won’t worry Serena, though, for the winner of 15 grand slam singles titles lost in the last 16 at the Australian Open while Azarenka won her first grand slam title. If Williams wins in Melbourne, one of her favourite venues, then she’ll regain top spot and with three grand slam titles (if she wins it) in her pocket, she’ll absolutely deserve it.
In the past, we have had all sorts of arguments over the legitimacy of the holder of the world No 1 spot, with Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki all reaching top spot without winning a grand slam title. But everything has changed now and four of the current top five (Azarenka, Sharapova, Serena and Kvitova) own at least one grand slam title.
It will be interesting to see how Wozniacki does over the next month or so after the Dane won her first title of the year in Seoul at the weekend. Wozniacki has been working hard off the court and on it to get herself back in the world’s top 10 and don’t be surprised if she manages it this week in Tokyo. There is work still to be done in terms of technique on her forehand and serve, but there is nothing like winning to breed confidence.