How different are the WTA and ATP rankings?

I’ll never fully comprehend why so many feel the need to waste endless amounts of time waxing lyrical about a ranking list that, in the greater scheme of things, is about as relevant to the WTA as Maria Sharapova’s moustache is to her endorsements. In a world where people don’t suck, Victoria Azarenka’s catwalk to the number one spot with Australian Open title in-hand and a subsequent 26-match winning streak would have struck the final nail in the coffin of this wretched number one “debate.” Yet, as the season comes to an end, Serena Williams’ superiority over Sharapova and Azarenka not reflecting in the rankings is all people can talk about.

But, alas, for the time being, let’s pretend that we live in a world where rankings do mean a great deal (they don’t) and that spending the last four years obnoxiously questioning the “legitimacy” of the rankings at every opportunity has been time well spent for all involved (it really hasn’t.) Over this period of time, I’ve always been struck at how readily the word “flawed” has been constantly tossed about in the relation to a ranking system that does exactly what it says on the tin, while being constrasted with the ATP’s system which – as with seeming everything involving the ATP tour – is presented as a shining beacon of flawless perfection. But, really, how different are they?

WTA under ATP Rankings:

. ATP Points Grand Slam Masters 1000 Best of Rest Tourns Counted
Azarenka 9905 4100 4415 1390 17 of 17 (1)
Williams 9250 4190 3220 1840 13 of 13 (2)
Sharapova 9220 4100 4160 960 14 of 14 (3)
Radwanska 6676 1830 3440 1406 19 of 22 (0)

ATP under WTA Rankings

. WTA Points Grand Slam PM+Best 2 P5s Best of Rest Tourns Counted
Djokovic 12090 5700 4220 2170 15 of 16 (1)
Federer 9585 4300 3875 1410 13 of 17 (3)
Murray 8290 4800 1755 1735 15 of 18 (1)
Nadal 6990 3500 2840 650 10 of 12 (6)

() = 0 pointers.

Not very.

Playing around with the two ranking systems is hardly a new concept, but despite the notable differences between the points structures of the ATP and WTA rankings, this factor is rarely taken into consideration. At first glance, both ATP and WTA point allocation systems are near-identical – with 2000 awarded at slam-level, 1000 at masters and so on. However, the big difference occurs amongst the players who leave tournaments without those big trophies, as the ATP offer considerably less points between the second round and finalist stages of events, in comparison to the WTA’s points system.

So, which system rewards greatness over consistency? Neither. A tick in the ATP’s favour is its point structure placing far greater emphasis on titles rather than a steady string of consistent results. It means that a player like Sharapova, who was the runner up in an immense 6 slams and Masters 1000 equivalents in 2012, is penalized most under the ATP system. However, the downside of this structure is the ease at which players can inflate their rankings by notching up titles at lower events against far lesser competition. On the other hand, the WTA only counts a total of 16 events compared to the ATP’s 18, lessening the influence of playing a significant amount of events.

Thus, the most effective objective ranking system would probably be one somewhere in the middle of the two. Even that would have its own glaring flaws, however, and on the whining goes.