It’s a question that can fill hours of airtime on sports talk radio, or countless threads on online message boards.
And Dinara Safina knows it’s coming whenever it can be asked.
How can a player be ranked No. 1 in the world without any Grand Slam titles?
Helpless though she may be to provide a satisfying answer, she at least seemed prepared Monday at the L.A. Women’s Tennis Championships, an event she won last year, are being held at Carson.
She sat, arms crossed, shoulders slumped forward, and when it came, she didn’t hesitate, firing her first counterpoint.
“Ranking is ranking. I didn’t do the ranking system,” said the WTA’s No. 1 player, who is seeded No. 1 in the 56-player draw.
True, but winning against premier opponents may help validate that ranking, and a good start would be three-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, who advanced Monday night with a 6-0, 6-4 win against Jarmila Groth.
Technically, though, Safina’s ranking is simply a week-by-week tabulation made through the year, with prestigious tournaments -- such as Grand Slams -- being worth more points.
Safina, whose first match at Carson is Wednesday, earned her spot because she consistently does well. This season, she won consecutive tournaments in Rome and Madrid, and had four finals appearances, including this year’s Australian and French Opens.
Yet despite her meteoric rise to the No. 1 spot (she was ranked 394 in 2001), the 23-year-old Russian is without a Grand Slam title, a fact that is seemingly attached to her name these days.
Serena Williams, who this year won the Australian Open and Wimbledon and has 11 Grand Slam titles to her name, is ranked No. 2 by the WTA. And she has been asked this question repeatedly: Why is Safina No. 1?
Williams’ answer in May at the Italian Open: “We all know who the real No. 1 is.”
Or last week at Palo Alto at the Bank of the West Classic: “I guess I needed to win Rome and Madrid and I could have done better at the French. But I can’t complain.”
Safina countered Monday, saying, “I think it’s just the result of the way you play the whole year, not only the four Grand Slams,” she said. “I’ve been playing the whole year and I’ve been having great results.
“If she has some questions,” Safina said, referring to Williams, “she can go to the WTA.”
The argument continues, though, because Jelena Jankovic, ranked No. 5 in the world, said in a recent Reuters article that to be No. 1, you have to beat the Williams sisters. Safina has lost six of seven matches against Serena and three of four against Venus.
“If you want to be No. 1, you have to be up there with them,” said Jankovic, who has an 8-8 record against the Williams sisters.
Safina’s counter: “The ranking system is not only based if you beat Serena Williams and Venus Williams. It’s based on how you play the whole year, so it has nothing to do with what is your record.”
Yet beating opponents like the Williams sisters -- or Sharapova, who with her rebuilt shoulder looked to be near full speed against Groth with her serve consistently hitting 110-mph -- often helps, because to advance in a tournament, especially a Grand Slam, one is probably going to face either or both of the Williams sisters.
But Safina countered Jankovic’s point about facing the Williams sisters too, asking “Did she beat them in the Grand Slams?”
Jankovic has, winning three of five matches against the sisters in Grand Slam events. Yet, as Safina pointed out, Jankovic didn’t win any of those tournaments, and “that’s what counts.”
For Safina, winning tournaments, especially Grand Slams, may be all that counts.
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Today’s featured matches
At the Home Depot Center in Carson:
* Court 4: Melanie Oudin vs. Daniela Hantuchova, 10 a.m.
* Court 5: Kimiko Date Krumm vs. Sabine Lisicki, 11 a.m.
* Court 5: Samantha Stosur vs. Monica Niculescu, TBA
* Stadium court: Vania King vs. Ana Ivanovic, 7 p.m.
-- Baxter Holmes