The fight for bragging rights

Jankovic and Serena are ready to take their battle for the world No 1 spot to the Melbourne courts

Written by Associated Press | Melbourne | Published:January 18, 2009 11:33 pm

Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams both think they’re entitled to be considered the No. 1 female tennis player in the world. They’re eagerly anticipating the chance to prove it at the Australian Open.

Jankovic has the bragging rights now,spending the last two months at No. 1 in the rankings despite a series of minor injuries and illnesses last year. But the 23-year-old Serb has her doubters because she has yet to win a Grand Slam — something that second-ranked Serena Williams has done nine times — and is short on match practice after coming down with an illness in Hong Kong.

“It will be an extra challenge for me,” Jankovic said Saturday,two days before the season-opening major gets under way.

Still,she wasn’t short on confidence,saying she feels she deserves the top ranking. She also undertook what she called her toughest-ever training regime in November and December,clearly adding some muscle,to help her stay on top.

“If I win a Grand Slam,it will be great result,great achievement,” Jankovic said. “But I’m already No. 1,and I believe all of these girls here want to be where I am now. So I’m just enjoying it and really having fun. I play tennis because I like to play,not because I have to prove anything to everybody.”

Making a case

Williams is ready to make her own case that nobody is better than her. “I would feel weird sitting here saying I’m not the best,” said a relaxed and fit-looking Williams,who won the last Grand Slam,the US Open,in September while briefly regaining the top ranking. “Even if I’m ranked 100 in the world,I would sit here and say I’m the best player.

“Nothing against Jankovic. She went out in the fall and worked hard and got the No. 1 ranking. I feel like I’m the best just because I’m not going to sit here and say anyone is better than me. I shouldn’t be in tennis if I felt that way.”

Both would have to overcome some serious challenges to get to the January 31 final. Even with the absence of defending champion Maria Sharapova — still getting back to fitness after a shoulder injury sidelined her for most of the second half of 2008 — the women’s field shapes up as one of the strongest in years.

Dinara Safina earned the third seeding by winning four tournaments last year and reaching the French Open final and the US Open semis. No. 4 Elena Dementieva,the gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics,is on a 10-match winning streak after winning two warm-up tournaments,dropping only one set.

No. 5 Ana Ivanovic is only 21 but already has had a stint as No. 1,won at Roland Garros and reached the final here last year. Like Jankovic,Safina and Dementieva are pursuing their first Grand Slam titles.

Serena’s sister Venus Williams,who has won seven Grand Slam singles titles — including her fifth Wimbledon title last year — reckons she can get back to No. 1,too. “Right now I’m not No. 1,so the number and everything isn’t matching up. But I hope to get there,” the sixth-seeded Williams said.

“The competition is very strong,and the girls are getting stronger and stronger and everybody is working hard,” Jankovic said. “I think it’s great for the game,and I think it’s also great for the spectators. It’s great entertainment because you never know who is going to win.”

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