MADRID (AP) – Dinara Safina may just be the most underappreciated No. 1 in women’s tennis.

Why is that?

“I guess they’re jealous that I’m so young and No. 1.,” Safina said at the Madrid Open on Friday. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Only Evonne Goolagong Cawley spent less time atop the rankings than Safina, who will make it five weeks as the best women’s player following the tournament in the Spanish capital.

But Goolagong Cawley won seven Grand Slam titles with four of those coming before the introduction of the rankings system in 1975.

Safina, who will be top seed at this month’s French Open, doesn’t believe the majors should be the only benchmark.

“To become No. 1 it’s not just winning the Grand Slams, it’s how you compete the whole year,” the 23-year-old Russian said. “I won last year four tournaments … I beat almost all the top-10 players so I think I deserve that spot.”

Jelena Jankovic, another who rose to No. 1 without a Grand Slam win, endorsed that overall thinking.

“She’s in this moment No. 1 and that’s all that matters,” Jankovic said. “What everybody else is saying it doesn’t matter, everyone has their opinions and everyone can talk all they want but not everyone can say they’re No. 1.

“I finished last year No. 1 and I didn’t steal that, it didn’t fall from the sky – I earned it.”

Serena Williams, who beat Safina in the Australian Open final, said this month that she was the true No. 1.

“Yes, I didn’t win a Grand Slam but I was in two finals and in one semifinal in one year. Many people can’t achieve that in a career,” Safina said. “Overall, I think I’m where I should be for the consistency of my whole year.”

She has reached 11 finals in her last 19 tournaments, and won her 10th career title last weekend in Rome.

Although the women’s game has names like Venus and Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic, it has lost major stars like Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters to retirement, while Maria Sharapova has been out for over a year to a shoulder injury.

The women’s tour doesn’t have the big-name rivalries like Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer and consistent performances from its top-five like the men, where third-ranked Andy Murray and No. 4 Novak Djokovic have lived for some time.

At Madrid, No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark was the only other seeded player to reach the semifinals.

Since Henin’s exit last year, five different players have been No. 1.

Goolagong Cawley had to contend with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova during her playing days.

“(When) Amelie Mauresmo became No. 1 she hadn’t won a Grand Slam and nobody told her anything,” Safina said. “I don’t know why people tell me and Jankovic that we should have won a Grand Slam.

“It’s overall how you compete. I still have time to win a Grand Slam. I think that will come.”

Jankovic offered a more blunt reply.

“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,” the Serbian player said.


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