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Posted: Wednesday November 19, 2008 2:16PM; Updated: Thursday November 20, 2008 4:55PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
TENNIS MAILBAG

The real women's rankings, Tsonga's blunder and Fed's best

Story Highlights

Player rankings are based in large part on number of tournaments

Jo Wilfried-Tsonga did not do himself any favors with a recent rant

Roger Federer is the master of the backhand overhead

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sharapova.jpg
Despite injuries in 2008, Maria Sharapova remains an elite player on the women's tour.
AP
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
Jon Wertheim will answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag every Wednesday.
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Since there has been a lot of chatter about who's really No. 1 in women's tennis, I took everyone who finished the year in the top 10 and divided their total number of points by the number of tournaments they played. Here are the results:

1. Serena Williams 297.38

2. Venus Williams 233.71

3. Maria Sharapova 228.63

4. Jelena Jankovic 214.09

5. Elena Dementieva 192.79

6. Ana Ivanovic 192.05

7. Dinara Safina 181.76

8. Svetlana Kuznetsova 143.47

9. Vera Zvonareva 118.08

10. Agnieszka Radwanska 95.25

If you were to ask tennis fans to rank the top 10 players of the year, I would bet that their lists would adhere more closely to this list than the official rankings. I'm not being pro Serena or anti Jelena, but these rankings seem to be a little more representative of quality rather than quantity. What are your thoughts?
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Frederick, West Hollywood

• First, thanks for taking the time to do the math. I agree that the rankings pretty much conform with "popular opinion." The dilemma is this: for tennis to attract sponsors and promoters and television partners, it needs to keep up the pretense that it wields some control over the players and their schedules. One way to assert this is through the ranking system.

To use a non-word, you "incentivize" the stars to play a lot; and you punish them when they play a little. It's really the lesser of two evils. Simply divide tournaments played by points and you lost the carrot that encourages a player such as Jankovic to play 85 matches. Reward (over)playing, and you have a ranking system that doesn't always reflect merit.

So, Rafa Nadal and other players have been whining about the anti-player tennis schedule. But don't they lose their right to complain whenever they sign up for those cash cow non-ATP exhibitions? I just read somewhere that six of the top 10 guys, including Nadal and Federer, are being paid 6-7 digit figures to compete at the Capitala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 1-3.
--
Piolo Pascual, Cebu, Philippines

• In fairness to the players, there is a qualitative difference between a sanctioned event and an exhibition. But your point is well-taken. You undercut your (otherwise valid) argument that the season is too long when you spend your offseason trolling for exo-dollars. If you really needed to regroup and recoup, would you be playing matches everywhere from Abu Dhabi to New Orleans?

As long as we're talking about injury and exhaustion, here's a point I don't think gets made often enough. How much do players suffer not from on-court exertion but from the travel? We all love the globalized nature of tennis, but, as any business travelers knows, being asked to work in Paris one week, Shanghai the next and Buenos Aires the week after that, exacts a brutal physical price. All the cases of food poisoning and sinus infections and back problems? I suspect the travel has a lot to do with that. Time to investigate regional tours?

Hi, I pretty much am a tennis novice, so I'm trying to get used to the terminology. What exactly is considered a "grinder" and a "pusher" and why are they used in negative connotations?
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Morgan Drimupolintana, Louisville, KY

• A "grinder" is one of those indefatigable, industrious players who may not be endowed with the biggest weapons but will win by virtue of sheer attrition. David Ferrer is a name that springs immediately to mind. A "pusher" -- the more derogatory of the two terms -- is a patient, annoying counterpuncher (redundant?) who "pushes" the ball back, content to win points when the opponent misses. You don't find many at the highest level these days, but maybe think back to Brad Gilbert at his most passive?

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