Azarenka sails past Jankovic in opening clash

Belarussian debutant has it easy against Serbian champ in White group tie

 Victoria Azarenka en route to her win over Jelena Jankovic. Reuters

Azarenka, the sixth seed, was hardly troubled by the former world number one as she won the White group encounter 6-2, 6-3.

Eighth-seeded Jankovic, a former French Open champion, has been struggling this season, a fact reflected in her seeding here. Barring the early part of the second set, she failed to match the sharp groundstrokes of the Belarussian.

Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki are the other players in the White group.
Safina, who edged back in front of Serena Williams when the latest world rankings were released on Monday, has spent a large chunk of 2009 as No.1. However, the glaring absence of any grand slam titles on her CV, compared to the American's 11, has meant her authenticity has been repeatedly questioned.

“I don't care anymore. They can say whatever they want. I am where I am, and that's it,” Safina said with a wry smile when asked the most worn-out question in sport as she prepared for her first match against Dane Wozniacki on Wednesday.

A record 20 wins in 22 matches during the claycourt stretch this season is often overlooked while her feat of reaching the Australian and French Open finals this year was tarnished by poor displays when it really mattered in the title matches against Williams and compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Rewarding consistency

The WTA rankings are designed to reward consistency, and Safina's win-loss ratio of 55-15 is not to be sniffed at but grand slam titles are still the accepted measure of greatness.

“Call them to make a ranking system how they want to make it,” said 23-year-old Safina, who will stay ahead of Williams if she betters or matches the American's run here.
“I mean, I'm close, I've been in three grand slam finals, so it is there. And I've been in two semis.

“Last year I was winning every tournament and they were asking me why I'm not number one. This year I became number one and there is no grand slam. It is every day going to be something. So let me take it step by step. It's not that I don't want to win a grand slam, of course I do. But I guess I need to work a little bit more.”

Safina played poorly last year in Doha, when the WTA showpiece was held in the Gulf state for the first time, losing all three round-robin matches on her first appearance in the WTA Championships.

This time she has been grouped with debutants Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, the third person to hold the top ranking this year. It looks a favourable draw on paper as she looks to keep Williams at bay.

Not easy

“It's not an easy group. Everyone is saying like it's easy, but there is no easy group. It's the eight best players. You cannot pick the draw,” said Safina.

“I just want to focus only on myself. I don't care who is playing on the other side. I want to go out there, play my game, do the things that I have to do and that's it, and let's see the end result.”

While it may not be a grand slam title, claiming the $1.5 million first prize on Sunday would be the next best thing, according to Safina, who was pipped to gold at the Olympics last year by compatriot Elena Dementieva.

“I think to win here, it's something very big. You know, from the first match, you have to be in top shape.”said the Monte Carlo-based Muscovite.

“It's not like in a grand slam where until basically third round, fourth round, you have some matches that you don't have to play 100 percent, you can win struggling, but you still can make it. Here, if you're not ready, you're out.”

Meanwhile, in the second match of the opening day, Venus Williams was playing Elena Dementieva in the maroon group.

It will be followed by Serena Williams’ clash against Svetlana Kuznetsova, also in the Maroon group.

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