New York: Serena Williams is baffled that she is not world number one and a third grand slam success of the year at the US Open, which starts on Monday, will underline her claim to be the top women`s player.
Holder Williams is the world number two and second seed at Flushing Meadows behind Russian Dinara Safina but is aching to once again assert herself in the spotlight of Arthur Ashe Stadium court at the National Tennis Center.
The 11 grand slam singles titles won by Serena, including this year`s Australian and Wimbledon crowns, compared to none for Safina, make the 27-year-old American number one in the minds of most fans and many players.
Flushing Meadows rivals also include her sister and seven times major winner Venus, the third seed, Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, 2008 runner-up Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and former winners Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters.
Serena can seem lost at regular tour stops -- she failed to win once this year in 11 non-slam events and fell in the first round three times -- but her competitive fire burns bright at the majors.
"I`d win zero tournaments in order to win the Open again," she said about a hardcourt season that saw her lose her third matches at Stanford and Cincinnati before falling in the Toronto semi-finals to eventual winner Dementieva.
Serena cannot reclaim the number one spot even if she lifts the trophy in New York and Safina suffers a first-round exit.
However, the American can take another step up the career ladder since her next major crown will tie her with Billie Jean King for sixth place among women`s grand slam singles winners.
Safina does not apologise for her status, achieved through consistent excellence through the rigours of a long season.
This year the 23-year-old has won three titles, was runner-up at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros.
She believes her breakthrough is only a matter of time.
"I didn`t do the ranking system," said Safina. "It`s the result of how you play the whole year, not just the four slams."
Yet Jankovic, who also reached number one last year despite lacking a slam win, cited another Safina shortcoming.
"To be number one, you should be complete and if you are number one you have to be beating the Williams sisters."
Safina is a combined 2-9 against the Williams duo.
Young players that could be poised to advance deep into the tournament include Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Sabine Lisicki of Germany and Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
Special attention will be paid to Sharapova, the 2006 champion from Russia who has returned this season after a nine-month absence following surgery on her right shoulder, and to Belgian Clijsters, the 2005 winner.
Despite a diminished serve Sharapova reached the Toronto final before bowing to compatriot Dementieva 6-4 6-3.
The 26-year-old Clijsters, less than a month into her comeback after two years off and the birth of her first child, has beaten four top-20 players including French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in her first two events back.