Dinara Safina has reached the third round of the US Open where she will meet Petra Kvitova. Yet since becoming the 19th women’s world No.1, on April 20, she has been dogged by the inescapable fact that she has never won a Grand Slam.
It has become her cross to bear, so much so that at a press conferences in New York this week the 23-year-old was asked if it’s “less fun being No. 1 than you imagined before you became No. 1?”
This year Safina lost in the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the final at the French and Australian Open. Serena Williams, on the other hand, won Wimbledon and the Australian Open and is defending her US Open title. Yet according to the rankings, the American is only the second-best player in the world.
After winning Wimbledon, Serena was asked about the rankings and her answers were laced with humour and sarcasm:
Q. How much of a motivation is it for you to try and regain the world No. 1 ranking?
SERENA WILLIAMS: You know, I’m not super motivated. I think if you hold three Grand Slam titles maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour obviously, so…You know, my motivation is maybe just to win another Grand Slam and stay No. 2, I guess.
Q. Does that disappoint you?
SERENA WILLIAMS: No. If it did, I would go crazy just thinking about it. I think anyone really could. That’s just shocking. But whatever. It is what it is. I’d rather definitely be No. 2 and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be No. 1 and not have any.
Q. Do you see yourself as No. 1?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I see myself as No. 2. That’s where I am. I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1. She won Rome and Madrid.
At the centre of this issue is a rankings system that rewards consistency over Grand Slam performance. So far this year, Safina has was won three titles, reached a further five finals plus two semi-finals for a win-loss record of 54-12. Serena has won two titles, reached an additional final plus four semi-finals for a win-loss record of 40-10.
Brother Marat Safin came to Safina’s defence after her first-round victory at the US Open. “She’s trying her best. She’s doing really well. She gets the attention, but not the kind of attention that a person deserves, especially when you’re number one in the world. She didn’t do the ranking. Deal with that. Leave her alone.”
Meanwhile, men’s world No.2 Andy Murray added his thoughts. “Tennis (has) an 11-month calendar. If you have ranking points which are too small for Serena to turn up at some of the smaller events, then all of a sudden the whole calendar is completely pointless and she can turn up – which is probably what she wants to do – at the four slams and play, and then not play for the rest of the year. And I think you have to be rewarded for consistency, and her consistency in slams is great, but in the other tournaments I don’t think it is.”
Can Safina break her drought in New York? Looking back at the last 21 Grand Slam winners since Martina Navratilova, five players made their break-through win at the US Open compared to five at Wimbledon, four at the Australian Open and seven at the French Open.
Where Grand Slam-winners won their first major
Amélie Mauresmo (2006)
Jennifer Capriati (2001)
Martina Hingis (1997)
Mary Pierce (1995)
Ana Ivanovic (2008)
Anastasia Myskina (2004)
Justine Henin (2003)
Iva Majoli (1997)
Monica Seles (1990)
Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario (1989)
Steffi Graf (1987)
Maria Sharapova (2004)
Venus Williams (2000)
Jana Novotna (1998)
Conchita Martinez (1994)
Martina Navratilova (1978)
Kim Clijsters (2005)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004)
Serena Williams (1999)
Lindsay Davenport (1998)
Gabriela Sabatini (1990)