Serena Williams hopes to shrug off the disappointment of her Qatar Open final defeat by celebrating her return to the world number one spot after more than two-and-a-half years with victory in the Dubai Open.
The 31-year-old American’s performances have belied her status as the oldest number one in the history of the women’s game, as she came from the edge of defeat to survive against Petra Kvitova and depose Victoria Azarenka from the pinnacle.
Williams, who lost to Azarenka in Sunday’s Qatar final, could now face both again over the next few days.
The 15-times Grand Slam title winner is seeded to meet Azarenka in the final for the second time in seven days and the Dubai draw offers the likelihood of another meeting with Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic, who led 4-1 in the final set of their quarter-final in Doha on Friday.
If Williams’ recent achievements seem remarkable, after the pulmonary embolism which almost ended her career, and the persistent back and ankle injuries which harmed her chances at the Australian Open, they apparently do to Williams herself.
She revealed on Saturday that “I never thought I would be playing at 31, although I don’t feel 31. I don’t know where the time went.
“I never, never, never thought I would still be out here, but I have nothing else to do,” she admitted.
“I’m pretty good at tennis still, so why not? I’d just rather I didn’t sit at home all day.”
Even if Williams really does have little else to do she still showed great commitment to her profession with her physical recovery and competitive intensity on Saturday as she overwhelmed Maria Sharapova in the Doha semi-finals.
Even though Sharapova is absent from Dubai, the draw looks harder from the start for Williams, as she should face Marion Bartoli, the former Wimbledon finalist from France whose entry arrived late and instead enters as a wild card.
If Williams is to have a semi-final rematch with Kvitova, the sixth-seeded Czech would probably have to get past Agnieszka Radwanska, the world number four from Poland who is the titleholder.
And if Williams’ rematch with Azarenka is to happen, the Australian Open champion might have to survive an opener with Nadia Petrova, the in-form top 20 Russian, and a quarter-final with either Angelique Kerber, the fourth-seeded German, or Samantha Stosur, the former US Open champion from Australia.
This is well within Azarenka’s capacity, having started 2013 in the best form of her career.
She was not upset at losing the number one ranking to Williams.
“That’s so out of my hands,” she said. “I have been playing really well, so why should I be frustrated? A ranking is a ranking. It just is how it turns out.”
Azarenka, who beat Williams only for the second time in 13 meetings, was also comfortable with paying a fulsome tribute to her American rival.
“She really changed the women’s game, really lifted up the level,” the 23-year-old Belarussian said.
“She’s a legend. I don’t know where I’m going to be at 31. Hopefully not playing tennis, but it’s definitely an incredible achievement.”