x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'Players believe in ranking system'

The outgoing WTA chief executive Larry Scott brushes aside Serena Williams' claims of being 'the real No1'.

World No 2 Serena Williams is the current holder of three grand slam titles and does not understand how she is still ranked below Dinara Safina who has yet to win a major in her career.
World No 2 Serena Williams is the current holder of three grand slam titles and does not understand how she is still ranked below Dinara Safina who has yet to win a major in her career.

LONDON // Despite the fact that the world No 1 Dinara Safina has yet to win a grand slam - while the world No 2 Serena Williams is the current holder of three of the majors - there is nothing wrong with the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings system. That is the view of Larry Scott, who has just stepped down as the chairman and chief executive of the WTA after six years in the role. Williams criticised the rankings after claiming the Wimbledon title last Saturday, to add to the US Open and Australian Open honours she also currently holds.

But despite her strong performances at the grand slams Williams is still 2,763 points behind Safina, leading her to claim that she is "the real No 1". "The one place it doesn't stir a debate is in the locker room," he said. "The players believe in that ranking system. "They believe the ranking is right. And I have not had one player come up to me and say, 'How can Dinara Safina be No 1 in the world?' They believe in it. That's the ultimate test."

Scott, 44, who was formerly the chief operating officer of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) is now to work as a commissioner for college sport in his native United States. Before accepting that post he was delighted that one of his final achievements was to secure equal prize money for women at all four grand slams and the other six key events on the calendar. That was an initiative begun more than 30 years ago by Billie Jean King, a leading pioneer for gender equality since retiring as a multiple grand slam winner in the 1980s. "I'm humbled and honoured to have finished off a campaign started by Billie Jean in that regard," he said.

His comments led to questions about whether the women actually deserve equal pay considering their matches are regularly seen as supporting fixtures to the leading men's matches at the world's four majors and other mixed events. Scott maintains that they do, despite the current lack of big names at the top of the women's game as the main men continue to provide major thrills and spills. "The women's game has been dynamic in the six years that I have been part of it," he maintained.

"We've seen the emergence of Maria Sharapova, a star is born, and she's done wonders for the sport as well as other Russian stars at the top - Anastasia Myskina, and now Dinara Safina. "We saw the compelling rivalry between Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. Justine really emerged as a champion and leader for the sport. "The was also the emergence of the Serbian players, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.

"There's been thrilling competition on the court. No one has been able to predict the next twist and turn in this story. But I have tremendous optimism regarding what the future holds." As Scott looks back at the barriers he and his colleagues have broken down over the years, he reflected on this year's "crisis" in Dubai as being one of the most difficult situations he faced. He was forced to intervene in Februarywhen the Israeli player Shahar Peer was not a visa to enter the country, meaning she could not take part in the organisers of the the Dubai Championships.

"It was in many respects one of the more challenging and stressful moments I have faced," Scott rsaid. "On a human level, we had 80 players in Dubai when we got the news that Shahar Peer was not going to be allowed to play. We didn't expect it. "It completely blindsided us and caught us by surprise. "Immediately it created an international firestorm and I didn't get a lot of sleep that week. "But I was pleased with the way we marshalled support and that there was this international uprising and fury over what had happened, really rallying behind the principle that sport should rise above politics.

"I felt that was very heartening and it was very powerful, because just a few short days later the government changed their policy and allowed Andy Ram in to play [in the men's doubles]." Scott said that there was a "very real" threat to the future of the highly successful UAE tournament which was won by five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams this year.  "If they had not changed their policies or complied with the subsequent conditions that we've placed on them to guarantee us this can't happen again, to post a financial bond and do other things, then they wouldn't be on the calendar next year. I'm happy we worked it out, because Dubai has been a fantastic tournament and it has been a great place for our players to play," he said. 

"Sport plays an important role in society and politics and culture there. I think there's a very bright future for sports there." Scott also pointed out that the WTA's season-ending championships will complete a three-year stint in Qatar in November. That, he believes, has enabled women's sport in the Gulf to take a significant step forward." As for his successor in one of the top jobs in sport, Scott reported: "The recruitment process is going well but our board doesn't feel in a particular rush.

"Even though I'm leaving  we have a very strong and solid management team in place." David Shoemaker, currently WTA chief operating officer, and Stacey Allaster, the association's president, will be jointly in charge of tour affairs in the interim period which Scott does not expect to last very long. wjohnson@thenational.ae