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Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Is Jankovic truly worthy of the No. 1 player status?

By Sandra Harwitt
Special to ESPN.com

Three Points

Scrambled rankings
Presumably, it's all in the way you look at it when you peruse the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings.

This week, Jelena Jankovic returns to the top of the charts for the second time this year and in her career.

Jankovic is talented. But is she truly No. 1 material at this point in time?

The computer says she is, so history will show that is the case. The Serbian has played the computer right -- she plays a lot of tournaments, which certainly pleases tournament directors worldwide.

Jankovic consistently does well at each and every stop she makes on the WTA Tour -- in 19 tournaments played this year, she failed to reach the quarterfinal round or better only once. In all, she won titles at Beijing, Stuttgart and Rome and reached two additional finals, five semifinals and eight quarterfinals.

But there are those pundits around the game who argue the computer should be designed so someone who has never won a Grand Slam title cannot ascend to the rankings' throne. To date, Jankovic's best result at a Slam was her final appearance at the U.S. Open last month.

Since the computer rankings commenced Nov. 3, 1975, Jankovic is the only of the 18 players to be ranked No. 1 who has not secured a trophy at a major.

"I don't think you can say you have to win a Grand Slam to be No. 1," says Tracy Austin.

Austin continued by giving Jankovic the props she deserves for her success: "What we are giving Jelena Jankovic credit for is one, for the quantity she plays and two, for her consistency. The way the computer is now, she's accomplished reaching No. 1 fair and square by playing more tournaments than the other top players and with quality finishes, but not necessarily winning the big titles. The way the rankings are now, you certainly can't punish Jankovic because she's playing by the rules."

But if history tells the tale, Jankovic's No. 1 ranking is a good omen: Two players before her grabbed the top ranking prior to a major title.

Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo achieved No. 1 on Sept. 13, 2004, and spent 39 non-consecutive weeks at the head of the computer rankings but didn't win the first of her two Grand Slam titles until the 2006 Australian Open.

Kim Clijsters assumed the No. 1 role for the first time Aug. 11, 2003, prior to earning her sole victory at a major at the 2005 U.S. Open.

And the winner is …
When the ATP hands out its 2008 player awards, it's hard to imagine Juan Martin Del Potro will have much worthy competition for most-improved honors.

Del Potro

Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Juan Martin Del Potro has won four titles this season, second to Rafael Nadal (eight) on tour.

Del Potro might have lost out to Czech Tomas Berdych in a 6-1, 6-4 final at the AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships on Sunday, failing in his bid to become the first player since Dutchman Sjeng Schalken to win his first five tour finals, but the week did land del Potro a top-10 ranking for the first time in his career.

At No. 9, he joins a fellow compatriot, No. 7 David Nalbandian, in the elite grouping, which must delight Argentina as it looks ahead to hosting the Davis Cup final against Spain next month.

Del Potro, who started the year ranked No. 44, now has won 29 of his past 31 matches, which includes his first four career titles this summer at Stuttgart, Kitzbuhel, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

"I'm feeling very good because everything is good for me now," Del Potro said. "The results are coming, and everything is coming together. I have the chance to qualify for the Tennis Masters Cup; I need one or two more results, and I'm working to earn this. I hope to continue this good form and qualify for Shanghai."

Emergency landing
Israeli Dudi Sela is not the best of fliers to begin with, something he has worked to overcome since it's a huge part of a tennis player's life.

So it is not surprising that Sela, who decided to make a quick weekend visit home to Israel after losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the second round in Tokyo last week, was nervous when his flight went wrong. Flying to Beijing to connect to an El Al flight to Tel Aviv, Sela reported he started to hear a strange noise almost immediately after takeoff. The pilot addressed the issue, citing an engine problem, and said they were safe to continue the flight. Three hours later, the noise became increasingly louder, the plane jerked and the pilot announced the left engine had gone out. An emergency landing at an airport on the China-Kazakhstan border was in order. The plane, carrying 150 passengers, landed safely. After Sela spent a night in a hotel, El Al sent in a new aircraft to take them safely to Tel Aviv on Friday.

"I was very nervous," Sela told ATP staffers upon arriving Sunday in Moscow after a very brief visit home. "I thought it was not going to finish good. There were some people getting stressed and in shock. Most of the people were very calm. Everyone was very quiet."

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.

Smell like a champion

Nadal

Guys out there might not be able to impersonate Rafael Nadal on the court, but pretty soon, they'll be able to smell just like a world No. 1. The reigning French Open and Wimbledon champ has inked a deal with Inter Parfums -- the company behind many high-end cosmetics and fragrances such as Burberry, Paul Smith, Christian Lacroix and Van Cleef & Arpels. The Olympic gold medalist will not only peddle its Lanvin line, but also will unveil his own signature fragrance next summer. Nadal adds his name to a number of players who have hawked scents as a sideline -- Maria Sharapova, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini.

Naughty, naughty

Karlovic

The Croatians were penalized for producing a court deemed too fast for Davis Cup play by the International Tennis Federation. The ITF said last week that the Croatians' court surface did not rate within the established guidelines (a rating between 24 and 50 inclusive for courts other than grass and clay) during their Sept. 19-21 World Group Playoff tie with Brazil in Zadar, Croatia. The nation was docked 2,000 Davis Cup points and fined for its error. The Brazilians' attempt to have Croatia, which won the tie, disqualified for the offense fell on deaf ears, as the tie referee believed the court still was of playable quality, also noting that the visiting nation didn't lodge its complaint "until well into the second day of the tie."

Both nations have the right to appeal the decision to the ITF Board of Directors.

Stat of the Week

Johansson

12 months: The length of early retirement for Swede Joachim Johansson, who last played a tournament at the 2007 IF Stockholm Open and announced a recurrent shoulder injury was forcing him from the game this past February. "Pim Pim" says his shoulder is much better since working with trainers who helped Carlos Moya overcome a similar injury and returns to the tour this week via a wild card at the Stockholm Open. He plans to play a full 2009 schedule.

Quote of the Week

Kafelnikov

"I put two photos together, one when I was playing and a recent one, and it was like looking at two different people," said two-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who gained 79 pounds to top the scales at 264 pounds after retiring five years ago.