© Ella Ling

Miami 2012 - Ana Ivanovic 2

The world number ones who never dominated


It might seem a bit churlish to be picking holes in the careers of the players who have reached the top of the world rankings but if it’s possible to discuss who is the best world number one in history, then it must also be fair (ish) to discuss who might be the weakest world number one too. In no particular order and with only a brief hint of objectivity, here are the men and women we feel may have just snuck in at the right time.

The men:

Marcelo Rios (1998 – total of four weeks)
No one would dispute the Chilean was one of the most talented players of his generation but having never won a grand slam event, he was perhaps fortunate to get to the very top. His seven tournament wins in 1998 included back-to-back victories in Indian Wells and Miami, but he only made one grand slam final.

Carlos Moya (1999 – total of two weeks)
Five different men topped the rankings at various times in 1999 so that gives you an idea what was going on in men’s tennis at the time. Moya’s lone grand slam win had come at the French Open the previous summer and he, too, was a fine player, with an outstanding forehand. But he was rarely a force in the slams afterwards and that tells its own story.

Andy Roddick (2003 – total of 13 weeks)
Roddick hit the top in 2003, shortly after he won his first and so far only grand slam title at the US Open. Coming immediately after the end of Pete Sampras’s career, towards the end of Andre Agassi’s career and just before Roger Federer became super-human, the American enjoyed his time as world number one but would probably agree that there were better players around than him, even then.

The women:

Jelena Jankovic (2008 – total of 18 weeks)
When the Serb reached the top, in August 2008, she was a few weeks away from reaching her first grand slam final. At the end of that year, she decided she needed more muscle to combat the likes of Serena Williams. But in striving for more power she lost her speed and with it her confidence. Sliding down the rankings, she is a shadow of her former self.

Dinara Safina (2009 – total of 25 weeks)
There were times during her career when Safina did look like the world’s best player and she reached three grand slam finals before the wheels came off. But though the Russian was a powerful ball-striker, he mental fragility always made her vulnerable before injuries took their toll. She is still not officially retired but her best days are behind her.

Ana Ivanovic (2008 – total of nine weeks)
When Ivanovic actually reached the top she looked like a bona fide number one, powerful, athletic and destined to stay there for a while. But that was then. A few months later and being there was already getting to her overactive mind. The confidence began to erode and as the ball-toss drifted ever further to the right, so her ranking drifted downwards. Mentally not as strong as she seemed.

Notable others

Marat Safin – (total of two weeks):
In terms of weeks, he is right down there but Safin won two grand slam titles, reached two other finals and won the Davis Cup with Russia.

Patrick Rafter – (total of one week)
The Australian’s time at the top was as brief as it could be but like Safin, he won two slams – back-to-back US Opens to boot – and lost arguably the most exciting Wimbledon final in history. Deserved his day in the sun.