Dear Bryan Armen Graham:
I do not know who you are or what you do. But I am sending you a bushel full of awesomeness.
Even if you believe Serena Williams is "the real No. 1" on the women's tour, which she probably is, you've got to question the timing of her cocksure, matter-of-fact declaration on the eve of last week's Italian Open.
One week after Dinara Safina usurped an out-of-form Williams atop the WTA's computer rankings, the 10-time Grand Slam winner -- whose body of work should speak for itself -- made a tacky assertion of her dominance.
"We all know who the real No. 1 is," Williams told reporters in a not-so-thinly-veiled swipe at Safina. "Quite frankly, I'm the best in the world."
The comeuppance was swift. Serena lost her opening match to Patty Schnyder the very next day, while Safina worked through the draw and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova for her first title of 2009.
The plot thickened Monday at the Madrid Open when Williams retired from her first-round match against Francesca Schiavone after dropping the first set, citing a nagging knee injury.
Fans have always admired Serena for her defiance and competitiveness. She's not in the business of making friends nor should she be. But the language of tennis is performance, an area where she's been compromised by her fitness in recent weeks. Monday's retirement marked her fourth straight loss and ensured she'll enter the French Open winless this year on clay, a demanding surface conducive to longer points.
On the flip side of the spat is Safina, the younger sister of two-time major champion Marat Safin, whose career took flight a year ago with her victory over Elena Dementieva in the German Open final. That victory capped a magical week for the young Russian, who'd knocked off top-ranked and top-seeded Justine Henin in the third round (in the last match of her career) and snapped Serena's 17-match winning streak in the quarterfinals.
Safina has flourished since that Berlin breakthrough, finishing second at the French and Australian Opens and bagging Olympic silver in between. A four-time finalist this year, Safina is in the best shape of her life thanks to her work with fitness trainer Dejan Vojnovic. And while Safina's Grand Slam tally (zero) remains light years behind Serena's all-time haul -- the crux of her tormenter's argument -- the rankings simply don't take into account a player's accomplishments from several years ago.
Serena only adds to her pressures by taking swipes at a competitor like Safina, who handled the entire episode with grace and reaped the deserved rewards. If Williams can manage the burden of No. 2 as adroitly as Safina handled her first week at No. 1, Serena will be back atop the rankings in no time.
And Bingo was his name-o.