Women's No. 1 up for grabs
Jankovic, Serena jostling for spot
MELBOURNE - Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams think they're entitled to be considered the No. 1 female tennis player. They'll have the chance to prove it at the Australian Open.
Jankovic has the bragging rights now, spending the last two months at the top of the rankings despite a series of minor injuries and health issues last year. But the 23-year-old Serb has her doubters because she has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament - something that second-ranked Serena Williams has done nine times - and is short on match practice after becoming ill in Hong Kong.
"It will be an extra challenge for me," Jankovic said two days before the season-opening major gets underway tonight (EST).
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 regimen 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."
Williams, as usual, is also brimming with confidence.
"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 Jan. 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, emerging from the shadow of older brother Marat Safin, earned the third seeding by winning four tournaments last year and reaching the French Open final and the US Open semifinals.
No. 4 Elena Dementieva, the gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics, is on a 10-match winning streak after winning two warm-up tournaments.
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.
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. "It's difficult to go out on the court and look across the net and think that someone might be better than you. So I try not to bring those kind of mentalities on the court."
The big unknown is who is in the best form after the brief offseason, and who took things too easy. That sets the stage for upsets and the emergence of new stars like 18-year-old Caroline Wozniacki, who held three match points against Serena Williams in Sydney last week before losing.
"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."
As for who is the best player, Jankovic said the answer will come soon enough. Any of the top four women could have the No. 1 ranking when the Australian Open finishes.
"The best one will be holding the trophy at the end of the two weeks," the Serb said.