Serena Williams never tires of telling tennis watchers that the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) ranking system is flawed and that she is really the best player in the world ahead of the official No 1 Dinara Safina. True though that declaration may be in terms of ability when the two rivals are both at the top of their game, world No 2 Serena has not risen to that frightening level often enough during the current year to be able to pursue her argument convincingly.
The powerful American has become something of a cherry picker on tour as her record indicates. Her commitment to the bread and butter tournaments, which are the lifeblood of the WTA, is not as strong as it should be and falls well below that of Russia's Safina and other Eastern Europeans who have risen to the top of the rankings in recent months. Serena and her big sister, Venus, make no bones about the fact that it has been easier over the last trophy-hunting decade for them to get in the right mood for the main events on the calendar than for the supporting cast.
Indeed, Serena has captured only two titles this year - the Australian Open and Wimbledon - and her mind is sharply focused on making it three out of four grand slams when she opens her defence of the US Open at Flushing Meadows next week. She would happily settle for a barren end to the year in exchange for reigning supreme in the Big Apple for a fourth time. "If I crashed out at the Open for no reason I'd have to win everything else the rest of the year," she said without too much conviction.
"I'd settle for winning zero tournaments in order to win the US Open again. I have to stay focused and consistent and, most importantly, hungry," she added as she sets out to raise her collection of grand-slam titles to 12 and emulate the career achievement of her childhood idol and mentor Billie Jean King. Serena, 27, has demonstrated in winning several of those previous 11 majors that she does not need to be ideally prepared to come out on top on the big stage and she is not exactly well tuned-up going into the demanding next fortnight.
Since her emotional dethroning of sibling Venus at Wimbledon, Serena has won only six matches in three tournaments and suffered what many felt was a significant semi-final defeat by the eventual champion Elena Dementieva in the semi-finals of last week's Rogers Cup in Toronto. "Everything has taken a toll on me," she said, suggesting that she needed even more time off between the grass of Wimbledon and the hard courts of Flushing Meadows. "I probably should have won that match last week, but I didn't," Serena reflected.
"I can't say I was especially feeling the fire but obviously I wanted to do well. "I really hope to have another go at her at the US Open." The failure of the Californian siblings to claim the top two seeding positions at Flushing Meadows mean there is a 50-50 chance of them being drawn to meet in the semi-finals, rather than resume their domestic rivalry in another final. Serena, who won in two tie-breaks when she and Venus met in the quarter-finals at last year's US Open, went 11-10 ahead in their personal head-to-head when prevailing 7-6, 6-3 at Wimbledon.
A 22nd career meeting in New York could determine the destiny of the coveted honour which the sisters have won five times between them. @Email:email@example.com