Grand Slam title winners shake up WTA rankings race like never before

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Angelique Kerber won her third major title since 2016 at Wimbledon this year. (AP)

Heading into the semifinals of Wimbledon this year, the four WTA players left in the draw had 12 titles between them—since the start of 2016.

Serena Williams, the eventual finalist, was off the tour for a year over that period, while Angelique Kerber, the champion, was coming off a disastrous 2017. Jelena Ostapenko and Julia Goerges, meanwhile, played some of the best tennis of their careers over the prior 12 months.

And while the collective title output might have been low, the weight of the tournaments won definitely wasn’t: Of the 12, four of them were at the Grand Slam level.

Combine that with the results of Garbine Muguruza the past 30 months (four titles won, two of them majors) and Sloane Stephens since last summer (victories at two of the four most important hard-court tournaments, plus another Grand Slam final), and what begins to take shape is the fact that players are making their marks on the standings with success at the more prestigious events as opposed to the build-up displayed by week-to-week consistency.

The latest rankings are a reflection of that, with the top four spots occupied by the last four Grand Slam champions: Simona Halep (1), Caroline Wozniacki (2), Stephens (3) and Kerber (4). Muguruza, after failing to defend her Wimbledon title, is No. 7, while Ostapenko—last year’s French Open winner—is No. 11 in the world.

Partially due to the extended absence of Williams, depth on the tour has been readily on display with nearly every major tournament up for grabs. And the No. 1 ranking has often been in play, as well: At Wimbledon, Halep, Wozniacki and Stephens all had a shot to leave the major on top. Halep maintained her hold on it after those two fell in the second and first rounds, respectively.

WATCH—Championship point from Kerber's win over Serena at Wimbledon:

With all Top 10 seeds gone before the quarterfinals there, the opportunity was ripe for Grand Slam champions to add to their major haul.

Caught up in the cascade of fallen seeds were two of the most prolific title winners the past couple of years, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova. Svitolina has won eight titles since the start of 2017, but hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals of a Slam over that time. Two-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova, who overcame a horrific attack and injury to re-establish herself among the world's Top 10, has been on a tear in 2018 with five titles.

Has that workload, though, been too taxing? The Czech entered the most recent two Slams among the favorites, but fell early in both with perhaps her most surprising loss coming at Wimbledon, where she fell in the first round for the first time since 2009.

It would appear putting the proper emphasis on pacing to ensure peaking for the game’s grandest prizes is the formula for success now, and the days of week-to-week dominance could be a thing of the past.

The last double-digit title season posted by a player was 2013, when Williams won 11 tournaments, including the French and US Opens, as well as the year-end championships. While the bulk of her other titles came at the Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 level, she also won an International event in Sweden and a Premier title in Brisbane that year.

With the Grand Slams more wide open than ever now, players just might not care as much about what's in between.

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