Thanks, of course, to the Williams Sisters.
There's no one perfect way to measure the relative strength of countries when it comes to overall tennis prowess. Is it titles or grand slams won? Total number of Top 100 players? Best potential Olympic teams?
Jared Pine at Second Serb Blog periodically publishes his rankings of tennis countries, using a pretty basic formula: adding together the rankings points accumulated by the Top 140 ATP players. In his formula, it will come as no surprise, Spain tops the list time after time. Led by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, and with 15 players in the Top 100, Spain beats Novak Djokovic's Serbia and the two top-5 Swiss guys by a comfortable margin. Spain rules men's tennis in 2015, as it has for years.
But what if you include women? After all, women are a (nearly) equal part of the tennis landscape. Tennis federations focus on developing and supporting women's tennis as much as they do men's tennis, at least in theory. Men and women play alongside each other at most of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. For women's tennis, if you use Jared's formula, USA is #1 by a lot over Czech Republic and Russia.
Then there's doubles. As we saw in the World Tour Finals, and the Fed Cup final, and as we'll see in the Davis Cup final, doubles continues to be an integral and exciting part of tennis, and can provide an focus for fans and federations in countries that don't have any elite singles players (see: India). For women's doubles, the Czech Republic would be the #1 country, while the Bryan Brothers give USA the edge in men's doubles.
For my inaugural World Tennis Rankings, I've adapted Jared's formula: I've included WTA singles rankings, expanded the list of players included to the Top 200 (mostly because it's a rounder number), and add in a doubles component. I only included the Top 100 doubles, and only 1/4 of the doubles points. (Note: I did run the numbers for including the 101-200 ranked doubles players, but doubles players below 100 have such a small impact on either main tour, and the difference the inclusion makes in the overall rankings is minuscule (it would have helped Mexico and Thailand move up a few spots, and added Zimbabwe, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Peru to the list of countries).)
The verdict is this: the US is the #1 tennis nation in the world, by nearly any metric. Even without Serena Williams and her 9945 points, USA comes out on top. So next time someone questions the "state of American tennis," show them this chart. It speaks for itself. (If they start talking about ratio of player to total population, change the subject quickly.)
Formula: It's pretty basic. I took the points from the Top 200 WTA and ATP singles players, and added the Top 100 WTA and ATP doubles players, but divided the doubles points by 4 -- the same way the ITF does for its junior rankings. Tab 1 has the combined points for men and women, Tab 2 has the breakdown of ATP and WTA, and further breaks down Top 100 points vs. 100-200 points. The tables are scrollable and sortable. If you see any errors, please let me know! See below for some takeaways.
TOP 63 TENNIS COUNTRIES AS OF NOVEMBER 23, 2015
KEY TAKEAWAYS:1. As mentioned, Serena Williams + Venus Williams provides the winning margin for the USA. Their combined 13,785 points is greater than USA's 12,959.75 point margin over second-place Spain. And of course they're getting older -- but so are many of Spain's top male players. I'd be frankly surprised if USA isn't in first place this time next year, even if the Williams sisters have down 2016s.
2. The WTA singles players have about 5% more points than ATP players (all in the Top 100), so women's singles is advantaged here by a small margin. If you want to control for that, be my guest, but as far as I can tell it has no impact on the overall rankings.
3. USA is the only non-European country in the Top 10. It may take a few years, but I anticipate that will change by 2020.
4. Countries helped most by the inclusion of doubles: India, Taiwan, Netherlands, Hungary, Brazil, and New Zealand.
5. Countries hurt most by the inclusion of doubles: Serbia, Belgium (which has a big Davis Cup doubles rubber coming up!), Bulgaria, Denmark, and the Baltic Nations.
6. Countries helped most by inclusion of 101-200 ranked players: Israel, Turkey, Netherlands.
7. Country with (shockingly) no players in the 101-200 range for singles: Canada.
8. #1 country with no Top 10 singles players: Australia (12).
9. #1 country with no Top 10 singles or doubles players: Ukraine (16)
10. Without Novak Djokovic, Serbia falls from 5th to 15th place.