2019 was a dream year for Ash Barty. The Australian became victorious at the French Open that year and reached the summit of the WTA rankings. Since reaching the number one ranking on June 24th, 2019, Barty hasn’t left the spot, accumulating over 50 weeks and two consecutive year-end World No.1.
It is interesting to note that Barty hasn’t played a single match since February 2020. Yet she was not been displaced from the ranking and recently clinched her second year-end World No.1.
A couple of things played into Barty’s hand. First, tennis was halted between March and August 2020 because of the pandemic. As the pandemic was raging across the world, tennis had to be stopped and thus WTA froze the rankings as well.
Next, the WTA also issued a revised ranking system. The WTA rankings cover a period of 52 weeks. In that period, the player’s best 16 performances are taken into consideration. But since the rankings were frozen, the WTA extended this period. Essentially, instead of looking at the whole of 2020 for the ranking points, the WTA will now look at points earned between March 2019 to December 2020.
So players won’t be losing any points as WTA is considering the best of 2019 and 2020. For example, Barty won the 2019 French Open. But she didn’t play the 2020 French Open. In the ideal situation had COVID-19 not been there, she would have lost the 2000 points she earned from her 2019 triumph. But now these points carry forward to 2021, and she will now defend these next year.
Similarly, Barty won four titles in 2020. A Grand Slam, the year-end championship, a Premier Mandatory, and a Premier 5 category tournament. The year-end championship fetched her 1415 points. But that was canceled, so she will have to defend those next year.
If the WTA hadn’t revised the ranking system, Barty would have lost 5315 points which would have pushed her out of the top 10. But this is Barty’s side. Although she didn’t take part, players below her did, and thus had a chance of getting the number one ranking.
Her nearest rival was Simona Halep. Halep kept the World No.2 ranking for most of the season. The Romanian skipped a few events like the US Open, citing the coronavirus situation in the US at that time. But then, as the tour moved to the clay-court tournaments, Halep was in red hot form. She was on a 10 match win streak on clay as she entered French Open. Had Halep won the French Open, then she would have catapulted ahead of Barty but the Romanian lost in the fourth round of the French Open to eventual champion Iga Swiatek.
Naomi Osaka as well had a slight chance, but the Japanese ended her season after she won the US Open. So Barty’s number one ranking wasn’t threatened. The season was uncertain, and players didn’t want to risk playing tournaments. In 2021, we will get the actual test as Barty not only defends her points but also her maiden Grand Slam title.