Simona Halep's 1-6, 0-6 rout at the hands of Garbine Muguruza in the Cincinnati Masters final didn't just cost her the title, it also meant that for the third time in 2017 Halep was left tantalisingly short of taking over as the World No 1 in the WTA rankings.
Halep could have reigned supreme over the women's rankings at the French Open, but ended up squandering a set and 3-0 lead to eventually lose 6-4, 4-6, 3-6 to an unseeded Jelena Ostapenko in the final.
The Romanian had a second chance at clinching the top spot at Wimbledon, when she was just two points away from defeating Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals, but was beaten 7-6(2), 6-7(5), 4-6 in a close, thrilling encounter.
Halep's loss to Konta meant that Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova then overtook Angelique Kerber as the new World No 1 after Wimbledon.
In the Cincinnati final, Halep was outclassed and thoroughly beaten by her Spanish opponent and her loss meant that she was left trailing the currently top-ranked Pliskova by just five points — the closest margin between the top two players since 19 October, 2009.
"Maybe I feel the pressure and I don't realise it," Halep said after the match. "Maybe I just played bad. I don't know what to say. But it's still there. I still have a chance, so I will work for it and maybe one day it will be there."
Halep was visibly disappointed after the final and with good reason — three times this year she has had the chance to be the World No 1, and three times she has come away empty-handed. However, heading into the US Open, the final Grand Slam of the year, it is maybe her best chance at securing the coveted top spot.
Here's a look at the latest WTA rankings that were released on Monday, with the points that each player has in the top 10.
1. Karolina Pliskova: 6,390
2. Simona Halep: 6,385
3. Garbine Muguruza: 5,860
4. Elina Svitolina: 5,650
5. Caroline Wozniacki: 5,350
6. Angelique Kerber: 5,0146
7. Johanna Konta: 4,750
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova: 4,410
9. Venus Williams: 4,216
10. Agnieszka Radwanska: 3,855
Statistically, eight women have a shot at being the World No 1 after the two weeks of the US Open: Halep, Muguruza, Svitolina, Pliskova (current World No 1), Wozniacki, Konta, Kuznetsova and Venus.
Halep, who lost in the quarter-final to Serena Williams last year in New York, has only 360 points to defend compared to Pliskova, who was the runner-up, and has 1,200 points to defend. For Pliskova to hold on to her top spot, she will have to at least reach the final again and also hope that a lot of other results go her way.
To examine the multiple scenarios that are possible at the final Major of the year, take a look at the ranking points breakdown by every round first:
Winner: 2,000 points
Runner-up: 1,200 points
Semi-finalist: 720 points
Quarter-finalist: 360 points
Round of 16: 180 points
Round of 32: 90 points
Round of 64: 45 points
Round of 128: 10 points
Venus has only an outside statistical chance and can become the World No 1 if she wins the title and all the other seven potential candidates lose at different stages.
On the other hand, in the case of Halep, Muguruza and Svitolina, their quest for the World No 1 ranking lies in their own hands — if either one of these three win the title, they will be crowned the new number one.
Going by recent form, Halep, Muguruza and Svitolina are among the favourites for the title as well. Wimbledon champion Muguruza is 9-2 since the grasscourt Slam and has won at Cincinnati with ease. Along with her commanding win in the final, it was the confidence with which she knocked out Pliskova in the semi-final that showed she could be on course for the third Major trophy.
Svitolina won the final at Toronto for her fifth title of the season. She has the best win percentage record of the top-10 players, and in the past seven months, has also defeated top-10 players on 10 different occasions.
And finally, there's Halep. In her last two tournaments, she has had a semi-final and final appearance. Her consistency and positive attitude have propelled her into becoming one of the best players in the world right now. She has been knocking on the door for a Grand Slam title for a long time, and the US Open could just prove to be her maiden breakthrough.
All the other possible scenarios for each of the eight contenders are highlighted below.
— Bjoern Rietz (@bar78) August 20, 2017
The battle for the number one ranking adds extra intrigue to an already loaded field. While the French Open and Wimbledon stood out for their unpredictability, the US Open promises some exciting tennis with high stakes involved at every round.
The first seven months of 2017 have seen plenty of drama with unexpected twists and surprises but the final Grand Slam of the year has the potential to deliver the craziest shock of the year yet. Will it be fourth time lucky for Halep? Let's wait and find out.
Updated Date: Aug 23, 2017 21:18 PM