Serena Williams has vowed to cling to the world number one ranking but questions may be asked about her claim to that status if Angelique Kerber takes her scalp in Saturday’s Wimbledon final.
American Williams was fiercely critical of the Women’s Tennis Association ranking system seven years ago, after landing the Wimbledon title meant she owned three grand slams but still sat at number two, behind the major-less Russian Dinara Safina.
And if German left-hander Kerber adds Wimbledon’s Venus Rosewater Dish to her Australian Open title, then she will be the owner of two slams yet stand adrift of Williams, who will be the holder of none, on the WTA computer.
After landing the third of her six Wimbledon titles in 2009, Williams said: “I’d rather definitely be number two and hold three grand slams in the past year than be number one and not have any.”
She heads into today’s final against Kerber as firm favourite, but that was the case in Australia at the start of the year when Kerber upset her in the final. It was the case in Paris last month as Garbine Muguruza caused a Roland Garros title match shock, and it was emphatically so at the US Open last September when Williams, hunting a calendar grand slam, was ousted by Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals.
Lose on Centre Court and Williams will be without a singles grand slam for the first time in four years.
The 34-year-old takes pride in sitting top of the rankings, which is where she is guaranteed to stay for a 178th consecutive week when the new list is published on Monday, however the match against Kerber plays out.
“It is significant to me,” Williams said.
“No one wants to give it up when they have it. Obviously I have a lot of tough competition. But at the same time, I am going to have to work really hard, be really determined, especially with this summer coming up, to hold on to it.”
According to fellow American Chris Evert, whose 18 grand slam titles included three at Wimbledon, Williams must make an imposing start and put behind her the disappointment of the last three majors.
Evert said on ESPN: “We know you can’t underestimate Angelique Kerber. If Serena comes out a little tight like she has in the past three – two finals and the US Open – and Kerber’s on top of her game, we’re going to see an upset.”
In the sights of Williams is a seventh Wimbledon title, but also the 22nd grand slam that would move her level with Steffi Graf at the top of the open era list of champions.
John McEnroe, whose charge Milos Raonic has reached the men’s final, believes the defending champion will be feeling the weight of expectation.
“There’s no question about it: there’s a lot more pressure on Serena Williams,” McEnroe said. “She wants to leave no doubt whatsoever in anyone’s mind that she’s the greatest player that ever played on a tennis court.
“To do that sometimes superhuman efforts are required and at other times the human part comes into it where you actually look mortal. That’s what happened to Serena at the US Open last year: she was human.”
Kerber celebrated her Australian Open win with a dip in Melbourne’s Yarra River, but when asked if she would be tempted by the Thames, she said: “I think this time, no.”
The 28-year-old has always dreamt of following fellow compatriot Graf onto the Wimbledon roll of honour, and spent time with her in Las Vegas in late March, practising with both Graf and the 47-year-old’s husband Andre Agassi.
Kerber said: “She has always been my idol, she still is my idol, but I want to go my own way and I will try to win my finals like she won her finals.”