WATCH—WTA Rankings Update:


Due to shoulder issues, Maria Sharapova didn’t quite make it to the finish line in 2018, which would’ve been her first full campaign since her return from suspension.

She has some company on the sidelines with three of her peers, Serena Williams, Lucie Safarova and Yanina Wickmayer, forced to end their years early, as well. And they’ll all have to soon make room for Andy Murray, as the former world No. 1 intends to play one more tournament in 2018. Murray will then turn his attention to preparing for next year’s Australian Open as he works to ensure his hip is up for the grueling pace of Grand Slam play.

More and more over the past few seasons, injuries and illnesses have taken players on the WTA and ATP tours out of competition for extended periods of time. As the game continues to evolve from a physical standpoint, will shorter campaigns become the norm and what impact will they have on the course of the sport?

Since 2016, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Murray have been out of commission for significant lengths of time due to some type of injury. The ATP’s “Big 4” and three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka—who’s working his way back into form after knee surgery—were ruling the roost at the time. Their absences allowed younger players such as Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev to work their ways into the Top 10 of the rankings.

Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have re-established themselves as befitting their status among the game’s all-time greats: They currently hold the top-three spots in the rankings and have dominated at the majors, winning the last eight between them.

The time off court could have had the benefit of allowing them to get some extra life in their legs as they push well past 30. The news isn’t all good, though, for Nadal, who was forced to retire from his US Open semifinal match against Juan Martin del Potro with a balky knee and will skip the Asia summer swing.

The Spaniard is said to be aiming for a return to the tour at the Paris Masters, the last regular-season event on the calendar before the ATP World Tour Finals. If Nadal does indeed plan to follow that scheduling, is it worth it to risk further damage for the last two weeks of the season? He hasn’t won either of those tournaments, and the year-end championships is the only major title missing from his resume. However, the risk might outweigh the reward.

Right now, on the women’s side, the Top 10 of the rankings appears to be steadier as no one has missed any significant time. Perhaps the highest-ranked player to struggle with injuries all season has been Garbine Muguruza, who suffered a number of early-round losses and fell out of the Top 10 in 2018, a year after reaching the top spot for the first time.

Muguruza played in Wuhan, China, this week, but with the game’s biggest prizes in the rearview mirror, could the two-time Slam champion join her peers such as Sharapova on the sidelines soon? The new year is right around the corner: Hitting the reset button as the game becomes more taxing could have more advantages than not in addressing future prospects.