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Explaining the WTA ranking changes, impact on world No 1

The changes to the WTA rankings mean that Naomi Osaka could how replace Ash Barty as world No 1 after the Miami Open, depending how both women do

Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, 2019 © Panoramic

On Thursday, the WTA announced a series of changes to its rankings as it looks to phase in the return to normality in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Here’s our understanding of what the changes are, what they mean, and how it affects the immediate race for the world No 1 ranking.

How do the WTA rankings work in “normal” times?

Simply put, it is based (in singles) on the top 16 results achieved on Tour in a rolling 52-week period. Each week, a player loses the points she earned in the same week a year earlier. Those points are then replaced by however many points she earns in the corresponding week.

What changes did the WTA announce in March 2020?

Last year, at the start of the Tour’s suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, the WTA – as well as the ATP – announced that the rankings would be frozen from March 16, 2020. After that date, players therefore retained their points beyond the traditional 52-week window for an as yet undetermined period.

What did the WTA announce in July 2020?

A few weeks before the Tour was due to resume, the WTA announced a new ranking system based on the best 16 results acquired between March 2019 and December 2020. This introduced (like the ATP) the principle of “better of”: that is, for the same tournament played twice in the given time interval, the possibility to keep only the best result.

What new changes did the WTA make in March 20201?

Following the ATP once again, WTA president Steve Simon announced a series of measures, introducing a gradual return of the rankings to normal, starting on April 5. Here are the main principles:

    • For tournaments not played in 2020 but scheduled in 2021 (example: Miami, Madrid, Charleston):
      – Points earned in 2019 will be removed after 104 weeks (ie two years.
    • For 2019 events not played in 2020 and not scheduled in 2021 (eg Indian Wells):
      – Points earned at these tournaments will drop off the computer the next time the event is held.
    • For 2020 events which were rescheduled outside of the event’s normal date:
      – If the event was rescheduled more than four weeks outside its normal date (eg Roland Garros, Rome, Istanbul and Strasbourg), then points from 2019 will drop off after 104 weeks, while points from 2020 will stay on for 52 weeks, if the points earned are better than the 2021 results or if the player does not compete in the 2021 event.
      – If the 2020 points are used, they will then drop off after 52 weeks, when they will be replaced by the 2021 points.
    • If the event was rescheduled within four weeks of the normal tournament date — (eg Lexington, Prague and Palermo):
      – Points earned in 2019 will drop off after 104 weeks. When the event is played in 2021 or after 52 weeks (whichever is the earlier) the 2020 points will drop off, as the 2021 points are added.

<li>For 2020 events which are not being played in 2021 (eg Brisbane, Auckland and Shenzhen (WTA 250)):
– The 2020 points will drop off after 104 weeks.

  • For 2021 events being played under the “Better of” system, which were held in 2020:
    When 2020 points are retained on a player’s ranking, the points will drop off after 104 weeks.
    When the event is played in 2022 or after 52 weeks (whichever is earlier) the 2021 points will drop and the 2022 points will be added. These events include the Australian Open, Dubai, Doha, St. Petersburg, Lyon, Guadalajara and Monterrey.


Which tournaments, which were played in 2019, will have their points removed on April 5?

This affects four tournaments: Miami, Guadalajara, Charleston and Monterrey.

What is the direct consequence of the latest changes?

The direct consequence could be huge, as the world No 1 Ash Barty finds herself under direct threat from US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, who could overtake her again after Miami if things go her way.

Until now, the Australian has been protected by the freezing of her points tally. But the new rules are clear: for tournaments played in 2019 and not 2020, the points will be removed after 104 weeks, so on April 5, Barty will lose the 1,000 points she earned for winning in Miami in 2019.

What has to happen for Naomi Osaka to overtake Ash Barty as world No 1?

The Japanese’s fate is not totally in her own hands. As the WTA confirmed to Tennis Majors, Osaka must reach the final to stand a chance of dethroning Barty at the top. But Barty will retain the No 1 spot if she reaches the final. And if she reaches the semi-finals, then Osaka will have to win the title. If Barty loses before the last four, then Osaka will become No 1 if she reaches the final.

Saving a match point in her opener against Kristina Kucova, Barty thus gave herself a breathing space. But now the fight is only just (re)beginning.

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