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Women’s No. 1 ranking up for grabs at U.S. Open

This Aug. 20, 2017, file photo shows Simona

This Aug. 20, 2017, file photo shows Simona Halep, of Romania, returning to Garbine Muguruza, of Spain, during the women's singles final at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. Credit: AP / John Minchillo

When Serena Williams was dominating women’s tennis, there was no need to check the WTA rankings to see who was No. 1. When Williams was playing her best, the tennis world knew she was the best.

Now Williams is expecting her first child, and that birth could come during the Open’s two-week run which begins Monday at the National Tennis Center.

With Serena out of the mix, who knows who will be the women’s No. 1 at this Open’s end. Eight players, all the way down to No. 9 and soon to be aunt Venus Williams, have a shot at No. 1.

Angelique Kerber was No. 1 at the conclusion of the 2016 season. She won her very first Slam in January of last year at the Australian Open. Then she closed out the Slam season by winning the U.S. Open title. But she is winless since and has fallen to sixth in the rankings. Ironically, because she won the Open last year, even if she won again Kerber could not rise to No. 1. She would just be replacing the 2,000 ranking points she won last year.

The player occupying that No. 1 perch now is Karolina Pliskova, who Kerber beat in the Open final. Pliskova has yet to win a Slam, but she has won three times this season. The peculiar give and take of ranking points from tournament to tournament allowed Pliskova to slip into the No. 1 spot at the end of Wimbledon even though she lost in the second round. She’ll be defending a lot of points from her runner-up finish in the Open last year, so she might have to win to stay at No. 1.

“I think it’s a little bit difficult with the way that I got to world No. 1 and I’m defending now every week something, and quite a lot of points,” Pliskova at the Tennis Center on Saturday. “And so it’s a little bit different situation. I just try to handle it, just take match by match. And, like I said, I have been feeling well here, so I don’t want to put any extra pressure. I have enough of pressure.”

Simona Halep, the No. 2 ranked player, has the best chance of becoming No. 1, even if she were to lose in the first round. Halep faces Maria Sharapova in the Monday night session on Ashe.

Halep has had chances to grab the No. 1 ranking this spring and summer, but came up short. She would have been No. 1 had she won the French Open where she was up a set and 3-0 in the second, until upstart Jelena Ostapenko’s surprising rally grabbed the title. At Wimbledon, Halep needed to defeat Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals to be No. 1, but she lost again. At Cincinnati two weeks ago, No. 1 was possible again, then she lost to Garbine Muguruza in the final.

“I lost three times the opportunity to get there,” Halep said. “So enough is enough . . . If I’m not thinking about it, maybe I will be more relaxed and I can get it.

“But I repeat: If I deserve it, I will win it. If not, that’s it.”

Carolyn Wozniacki, the fifth ranked player, could grab No. 1 with what would be her first Grand Slam title. Like Pliskova, she has been No. 1 without winning a Slam. Wozniacki hasn’t won a tournament this season, though she has lost in six finals. That ties a WTA mark for most final losses in a season first recorded by Maria Sharapova in 2012. But Sharapova won three times that year.

Kerber was elated to reach No. 1, but knows what the struggle was to get there, and to stay there.

“It’s for sure a very great feeling to be No. 1, because this is what you were always dreaming for and you are working a lot to get the spot one day,” Kerber said. “This is what we are doing all the years. But of course it’s not so easy. You feel then if you are there or you are close there you feel the pressure. Do you feel the pressure from yourself, as well, because you know you are just really close to be there? But of course if you are there, it’s a feeling what you will never forget and you know you reached it.”

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