Published On: Sun, Aug 28th, 2016

Every way Serena Williams can lose her No. 1 ranking at the US Open

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In February 2013, Serena Williams became the oldest woman to ever own the world No. 1 ranking. All she’s done since then is hold it down for 184 successive weeks, and counting.

By the time the US Open wraps two weeks from now, Serena will have tied Steffi Graf’s record of 186 straight. Win the title, and she’ll clinch the new all-time mark. Fall short, and she’ll potentially open the door for a different No. 1 for the first time in three-and-a-half years.

Three women have a chance to knock Serena off her perch at Flushing Meadows. Here are all the possible ways that can happen:

Angelique Kerber

The world No. 2 has by far the best shot at unseating the incumbent queen. Kerber finished 2015 ranked just 10th in the world, but an out-of-nowhere career year at age 28 has catapulted her to within 190 points of No. 1. In fact, she’d have already overtaken Serena if she hadn’t run out of gas in the Cincinnati final against Karolina Pliskova last week.

Even after that missed opportunity, Kerber is well-positioned to make her move. Because she lost in the third round last year, she’s defending just 130 points at the US Open, while Serena is defending 780 from her 2015 semifinal run. In other words, despite Serena’s narrow lead in the rankings, Kerber actually has a 460-point edge baked into the tournament.

That means Serena has to make at least the semis in order to fend off her hard-charging rival, even if Kerber loses in the first round. If Kerber makes the quarters, Serena needs to make the final (a result that will hold up even if Kerber makes the semis). If Kerber makes the final, of course, Serena’s only hope of extending the streak is to beat her.

Think of it this way: as long as Kerber is alive at the US Open, the No. 1 ranking belongs to her. Though the pre-tournament rankings don’t reflect it, Serena is chasing Kerber, not the other way around.

Garbine Muguruza

Muguruza’s path to No. 1 is far less straightforward. The Spaniard needs to advance to at least the semis to have a hope, a dubious proposition even for the world’s third-ranked player, considering she has just one career US Open match win to her name. Even if she manages to crack the final four, Muguruza will need Serena to fall before the quarters, something she hasn’t done at Flushing Meadows since 2006.

Should Muguruza make the semis, however, things could get really interesting. She was drawn into Kerber’s half, setting up potentially momentous semifinal clash. Winning that match wouldn’t propel Muguruza past Kerber, but subsequently winning the title would. In a championship match against Serena, No. 1 would go to the winner. Should Serena fail to advance past the semis, a runner-up finish would be enough for Muguruza to pass her (by a whole 10 points), but not necessarily Kerber.

There’s a plausible scenario in which Serena stumbles, Kerber and Muguruza chalk their way through their respective quarters of the draw, and Serena gets bounced to No. 3.

Aga Radwanska

The least likely new No. 1, Radwanska – who’s never even played into the second week in Flushing Meadows – needs a whole lot to go right in order to find herself at the top of the mountain by fortnight’s end.

She almost certainly needs to win the tournament, and even then, she needs Kerber to lose before the final. She also faces the prospect of seeing Serena in the semis. Both Muguruza and Kerber come in with knowledge they can beat Serena, but Radwanska never has. She’s lost all 10 of their head-to-head matches, and few of them have been particularly close.

Craziest potential scenario: Radwanska beats Muguruza to win the title, and Serena drops all the way to No. 4.

Now or … not for a while

For all these aforementioned players (Kerber especially), this is going to be their best shot for a while to take No. 1 for the first time. Serena is vulnerable, having played just three matches since winning Wimbledon, and barely practiced because of a right shoulder injury.

But because she shut it down after her deflating US Open loss last year, Serena has zero points to defend during the fall swing. So, wherever she lands in the rankings after the tournament, there’ll be nowhere to go but up for the remainder of 2016.

If she hangs on to the top spot at Flushing Meadows, it’s a near lock that she’ll finish as the year-end No. 1 for a fourth straight year.

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