Serena Solidifies World #1 Ranking with Win in Doha
November 1, 2009 -- Serena Williams dominated this year's Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar. She won all her round-robin matches -- three total -- dropping one set along the way. Appropriately, she defeated big sister Venus in the final today to solidify her dominance of the sport and number one ranking.
History will remember the 2009 year-ending championships as an injury-laden week, where two alternates were called in for withdrawals and two of the top eight retired in round-robin competition, signaling the strain they were under to take to court day after day following an exhaustive season of matches.
Dinara Safina completed three games, playing a total of 13 minutes, on center court of the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex. Her back was done, even if Safina's intentions to pursue the number-one ranking were not. At the time, she told the press she might miss the Australian Open, which begins January 18, 2010, because one of her discs in her lower back had started to fracture. Two days later, though, she confirmed her appearance for January 3 with Brisbane International tournament officials. Either the Russian is hopeful that her back can rehabilitate by that date, or else she's unsure but wants to set a goal as a guide, like a star to reach for. Justine Henin will make her comeback debut in Brisbane.
Vera Zvonareva, the 2008 finalist in Doha, stepped in for Safina. She quickly needed a replacement when she retired from the tournament after her first, and only, match that she lost against Caroline Wozniacki. Zvonareva's hopes for a distinguished year ended abruptly in Charleston, South Carolina, where she severely twisted her right ankle and withdrew from that tournament. As a result, she didn't play Rome, Madrid, or The French Open.
This match would prove to be the peak of Wozniacki's endurance, too, after having battled through extreme cramping to defeat Victoria Azarenka in a come-from-behind thriller the day before. Wozniacki's cramps and hamstring strain were too much from which to recover in the time frame of the tournament's schedule.
Stepping in for Zvonareva was Agnieska Radwanska, #10 ranked woman in the world. She forced Azarenka to retire in the third set with cramps and a sore upper back. Now we learn that Radwanska requires surgery on her right wrist.
Out of the ten women who played this week, only Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova ended in condition to play another tournament, if one were scheduled. Good thing the WTA shortened the calendar for 2009. Imagine if these women's schedules charted another month of matches.
In the final late this afternoon Serena appeared on court with her left quadriceps wrapped, as it had been yesterday. Venus, too, had succumbed to support for her left knee -- a visible sign of prior days strain. Neither woman played her best tennis. However, Serena showed the spirit and gut-level determination to clinch the title 62 76 (4) in a little under one and a half hours of tennis.
Serena had an easy time in the first set. She broke Venus twice, the second one a gift from big sis as she double faulted to lose the crucial seventh game. Venus had zero break opportunities and was 48% on first serves, definitely way under par if she had hoped to arrest Serena's momentum. Venus won a measly 18% on returns of first serves, too. She orbited in a galaxy set aside for failure, a corner of space she certainly wanted to escape from.
Before the second set began, fans probably contemplated whether Venus could serve more consistently and thereby establish better rhythm and confidence in her ground game. Her footwork, too, would need to pick up. She knew, in the depth of her soul, every nuance of Serena's game: the power, the serve, the spins and dips on forehands and backhands, her athleticism, her rock-solid mental toughness. Unless major changes were made, the afternoon would be over sooner than later.
Venus's faith in herself needed a polish. The waters that separated the Venus we knew from five Wimbledon titles and the Venus that presented herself in the first set would have to dry up, like immediately.
These are girls of faith, too. They are devout Jehovah Witnesses. After winning some matches, Venus, as well as Serena, has thanked her God Jehovah, announcing to the world her faith and intimating that Jehovah was the reason, partially so, for a victory.
Richard Williams, their father and life-long coach, has been seen sporting a baseball cap embroidered "Jehovah is My God" in the same location that a major league logo would normally be promoted.
But faith would not fix Venus today.
Serena Williams continued to take every opportunity to advance her cause and score. She punished Venus's second serves, stood inside the baseline by a good foot or more anticipating short balls as she watched Venus struggle to run down wide and wider assault shots.
Venus held on. Neither woman had a break chance in the second set. Venus improved on her first serve percentage, but not enough to elevate her game to a level that would dominate a determined Serena. At four games all Venus held a healthy 40-love lead. Serena threatened to break, but didn't. At 5-all, Venus's first serve hit its mark. The match was headed for a tiebreak, an apt end to the set and the season.
Serena's serve is probably the best in the women's game. It is her biggest asset in crunch situations, which a tiebreak is. Roger Federer will attest to that, as will Andy Roddick -- two men with two of the best tiebreak records.
Serena hit two aces in the tiebreak. Venus donated two points from unforced errors, one point from a double fault. Serena hit a patch of unforced errors, too, committing three in a row. But the gap in their ability, at this point, was too wide for Venus to span. Serena wasn't about to lose. Everyone in the stadium knew it. If the match were extended to a third and final set, Serena would have sucked up every ounce of energy during the time between sets and come out firing on all twelve cylinders.
Luckily for Serena, mindless projections were short changed. The last two points were hers. There was no jumping or screeching or foul language mouthed at her box full of friends and family, just a tight fist clench and a look of relief. Venus was her opponent and the loser. A little respect, please, for the grander dame of the game.