Triple Play: Serena, Murray, Wawrinka in uncharted rankings territory

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Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Stan Wawrinka—largely inactive in 2018, over 30 and future Hall of Famers—are each outside their tour's Top 100. (Getty Images)

Serena Williams' fourth-round run at Roland Garros ended in injury, but the 23-time Grand Slam champion can look at the bright side: it cut her WTA ranking by more than half, from No. 451 to No. 183.

No doubt that it's still a long way from where Williams feels she belongs—a fact that the ATP's Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka can relate to.

By failing to defend his runner-up finish at Roland Garros from a year ago, Wawrinka’s ranking is currently No. 263, more than 200 spots lower than when he entered the tournament. Murray, who was Wawrinka’s semifinal opponent in Paris last year, plummeted to No. 157, as injury prevented him from entering this year’s tournament.

That’s three future Hall of Famers on the north side of 30 trying to reclaim their place among the game’s elite—and, at least technically, a long ways away.

Can it be done?

WATCH—Stan Wawrinka exits Roland Garros just as he arrives:

So far in 2018, Wawrinka’s return from knee surgery has had its ups and downs. At the French Open, the three-time Grand Slam champion fell in five sets in the first round to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, dropping his overall match record to 4-7 on the year.

But at least the Swiss has been able to return to the court.

In Murray's case, it’s been close to a year since he’s played an official match. Back in 2016, the Scot finally worked his way to the top of the rankings after a torrid run in the fall. That form didn’t carry over into the following year, as he only won one tournament before hip surgery shut down his on-court activities.

Murray’s been down the comeback road in the past, having had back surgery at the end of 2013. It's an experience he’ll be able to call upon as he works his way back into action.

WATCH—Mary Carillo with Judy Murray:

Williams, too, is no stranger to comebacks. Over the course of her career when she’s been forced off the tour due to injury, she’s often returned stronger than ever. This time, after taking time off to start a family, she’s shown flashes of her old self: at Roland Garros, the 36-year-old American beat two players ranked in the Top 20 before a pectoral injury curtailed her run.

As Williams most recently demonstrated, a strong performance at one of the game's biggest events can make a significant impact on a player’s ranking. But for a boost in the standings to happen, there is some risk involved.

Williams could very well go into Wimbledon unseeded this year, leaving her at the mercy of the draw. A fourth-round meeting with Maria Sharapova—which we missed at Roland Garros—would be nothing compared to a potential first-round match against, say, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, or her sister Venus. Before Serena could even get a foothold in the event, her chances to advance could be greatly compromised.

WATCH—Serena Williams on motherhood:

Competing in smaller events could help each player ease their way back into the sport. Wawrinka hasn’t played a Challenger tournament yet this year, which could help with getting in match play. Questions abound on whether Williams’ decision to play doubles at the French Open forced her withdrawal due to her health.

The situation these three players face is different from what Roger Federer (back and knee injuries), Novak Djokovic (elbow issues) or Rafael Nadal (various physical ailments over the years) dealt with. None of their rankings ever took a nosedive into the triple digits. Juan Martin del Potro, whose ranking took a precipitous drop after wrist issues, and Sloane Stephens, who missed a year with her foot injury, at least had youth on their side, with their best years potentially ahead of them.

With Murray, Wawrinka and Williams, it’s hard to say if time will be their ally. All three have demonstrated in the past that they know what it takes to achieve greatness. But this ranking drop at the latter stage of their respective careers promises to be one of their biggest tests yet.

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