What does it take to become the most talented woman in the world to wear a tennis skirt to work?
It has been much debated. Mostly without public resolution.
Even the top three players in the world themselves can't agree.
Third-ranked Venus Williams, winner of 41 career singles titles including seven majors, believes it's all about winning the Grand Slam tournaments.
Second-ranked Serena Williams said it's about consistency.
Dinara Safina? Basically, she doesn't care which is the barometer of greatness. "I don't know. I'm No. 1 in the world and I don't care about anything else," Safina said yesterday as the top eight ranked players in the world gathered at a Rogers Cup reception before they get into the really big bun-fight in September at the U.S. Open.
The Women's Tennis Association rankings say Safina is No. 1. That's her story. She's sticking with it.
Serena mocked Safina's ranking after winning her third Wimbledon title and 11th Grand Slam event, noting at the time: "It's shocking. I'd rather definitely be No. 2 and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be No. 1 and not have any."
Safina started this year at No. 3, jumped to No. 1 in April, and has a 48-10 record including three titles, four finals and two semis. But she lost to Serena, 6-0, 6-3, in the Australian Open final and to Venus, 6-0, 6-1, in the Wimbledon semis and never has won a Grand Slam.
Yesterday, Serena was being such a diplomat that U.S. President Barrack Obama should consider making her the next Iraqi ambassador. Peace-maker guaranteed. "I think every lady on the tour should think that (they're No. 1). If they don't," she said, "they're in the wrong job."
She talked about not having a good summer. She talked about how much she loved Toronto for its shopping and nightlife. There was no mention of being the reigning U.S. Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and the licensed manicured nails were kept holstered.
"I don't even follow the rankings. When I was young it was like I want to do this, I want to be that. But I've been there, done that," Serena said. "I think consistency is important and I haven't been consistent."
Then, comes the laugh. "I've been consistent two or three times this year," she said. Playful. Like maybe she was having everyone on.
Safina has been the workhorse in a Tour made up of show horses. How she got to be No. 1, and whether it is merited, is not something she seems to care to debate. She just is, and she's loving it. "When I was a kid on the tour I would look and say, oh, she's No. 1. It was something I dreamed about. And, now I get there."
The ranking brings notoriety and money, but for Safina the biggest change it has brought is "respect." That, and sometimes a tap on the shoulder for the inevitable request for an autograph.
It is a world Venus knows well, although she hasn't held the No. 1 spot since February of 2002. The road to the top, she said, should run through the majors.
"For me, I want to win Grand Slams," Venus said. "Mentally, physically and emotionally and anything else you can think of with 'ly' at the end, they're the toughest ones to win. To do well there is what every player dreams of."
Which would explain the absence of Serena and Venus from Toronto most years. In the lead-up to the U.S. Open it was considered mostly a nuisance tournament. But rules, prize money and schedule changes now make the event more attractive.
Besides, noted Serena, "Basically, if you don't come, you can get fined."
Ah, yes. At last. Sweet, bold honesty.