Stern test waits for improved Keothavong

Since becoming world No 1 last month Dinara Safina has had to learn how to deal with the jibes and the pointed questions. Serena Williams, her predecessor at the top of the rankings and the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion, says she still feels like the No 1. Besides, how can a player who has never won a Grand Slam title be regarded as the best in the world?

Anne Keothavong, drawn to meet Safina in the first round of the French Open, which starts today, is having none of it. "As world No 1 she's backed it up by winning the last two tournaments, in Rome and Madrid," the British No 1 said here yesterday. "She's yet to win a Grand Slam, but she has proved she's the most consistent player out there. She puts herself on the line and you can't really argue with that. If someone competes well at the big tournaments week in and week out then they deserve to be where they are."

Four months ago Safina suffered a crushing defeat by Williams in the Australian Open final, winning three games in a match that lasted less than an hour. Their clay-court campaigns, however, could hardly have been more different. Safina has lost one of her 15 matches – the final in Stuttgart against Svetlana Kuznetsova – while Williams has played three times and lost on each occasion, to Klara Zakopalova in Marbella, to Patty Schnyder in Rome and to Francesca Schiavone in Madrid, where she retired hurt with a knee injury.

Not that any of those results will have shaken the confidence of the American, who, like her sister Venus, reserves her best for the Grand Slam events. "We all know who the real No 1 is," Serena insists. "Quite frankly, I'm the best in the world."

Nevertheless it is Safina, who lost to Ana Ivanovic in last year's final, who is the favourite here. The Williams sisters are never at their best on clay, Ivanovic has slipped to No 8 in the world after winning only one title since her triumph last June, Jelena Jankovic has looked below par all year and Elena Dementieva never seems to have what it takes to make it over the finish line at Grand Slam events.

"If I continue playing like I have for the last three weeks I have a very good chance, so I want just to take one step at a time," Safina said. "I'm not even listening to what people are saying. I'm just focusing on myself, just taking one day at a time. I don't think about what I want to happen in 14, 15 or 16 days' time. I live for today. Today I had a practice. That's all. Tomorrow is another day."

Safina and Keothavong have never played each other as seniors, but the Russian won when they met in the semi-finals of junior Wimbledon eight years ago. "I know her pretty well," Safina said. "I think she's playing some good tennis."

Keothavong arrived here on Friday from the Warsaw Open, where she enjoyed the best clay-court run of her career, losing to Alona Bondarenko in the semi-finals. The result should take Keothavong back up to No 48 in the world rankings, equalling her highest position.

Having failed in five previous attempts to qualify for the French Open, Keothavong is looking forward to the chance to play on one of the main show courts at Roland Garros.

"It's a great opportunity," she said. "It's the toughest draw you could have asked for at a Grand Slam event, especially here at the French Open. She's the in-form player and she's been performing more consistently on clay than anyone else this year. She's probably the strong favourite, but I'll go out there and give it my best shot."

Keothavong hardly played on clay as a junior and used to avoid the surface, but since her improved ranking has given her the chance to enter the biggest events she has thrown herself into the clay-court season. "In all the matches I've had opportunities," she said.

A second Briton, Mel South, plays a qualifier, Portugal's Michelle Larcher De Brito, while Vera Zvonareva's withdrawal through injury yesterday also put Katie O'Brien into the draw as a "lucky loser", the 23-year-old having lost in the final round of qualifying. In the first round she will pay Olga Govortsova, of Belarus.

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'