Victoria Azarenka’s shock withdrawal at the Indian Wells Masters this week proved beyond a doubt that players on the WTA are under severe pressure to play though the pain just to retain ranking points.
Azarenka had a golden chance to win one of the tour’s most prestigious events with world number one Serena Williams absent from the tournament, meaning the Belarusian was all set to claw back vital ranking points atop the women’s game.
Sadly, an ankle strain that has troubled the world number two for some time proved just too much to cope with and on doctor’s orders she rightly pulled out of her quarter-final clash with Caroline Wozniacki.
So where does this leave Azarenka now?
The 23-year-old has a 17-0 record this season, has won two of her three tournaments – including the Australian Open – and defeated Serena in the Doha final last month.
Yet she has still slipped down the rankings and come Monday may well be world number three should Maria Sharapova prevail at the BNP Paribas Open.
Losing her world number one status despite claiming the first Grand Slam of the year must feel like a huge slap in the face for Azarenka, who may not play the Miami Masters this coming week if her ankle problem holds up.
She’s suffered a good number of injuries this season already including a bad toe that forced her to withdraw from Brisbane.
Yet she isn’t the only one who has withdrawn late in tournaments when titles have seemed so glitteringly close. Sam Stosur also pulled out at the quarters on Indian Wells, while Serena has had back problems since her Australian Open loss to Sloane Stephens and withdrew from Dubai recently.
Sharapova is also not infallible to the strains of the women’s tour having played just two tournaments before Indian Wells to protect her fitness. It seems to have worked – she’s made the two semis and now a final – but how can this low number of tournaments merit her leapfrogging the Australian Open champion?
It just doesn’t add up – or in fact, given the rankings system, it does add up but is too confusing for one to tackle head on.
Granted, the intensity of which these players compete at is contributing factor to their injuries but so is the intensity of the tour that demands players must put their bodies on the line for ranking points that seem to be of irrelevance even if you win a Slam.
Head photo: n.hewson, flickr