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Championships Profile: Serena Williams
DOHA, Qatar – Serena Williams might not have been at her most dominating in 2008, but she would surely agree it has been one of the most rewarding years of her career.
Playing one of her busier schedules, the now 27-year-old collected three titles in the first half of the season, including the Tier II Canara Bank Bangalore Open in India and two Tier I titles, on the hardcourts of Miami and Charleston’s clay. Although she merely justified her seventh seeding by reaching the quarters at the Australian Open, and fell to Katarina Srebotnik in the third round at Roland Garros, it became increasingly clear the spark was still there, and that a certain kind of momentum was building.
Indeed, by the time Serena had finished runner-up to sister Venus at Wimbledon – in a match widely regarded as one of the best shows ever put on by the two – the younger Williams had just about done enough to ensure her place at the Sony Ericsson Championships for the eighth time.
“It’s always an honor to play at the year-end Championships, and I’m looking forward to playing in Doha where I can hopefully show my best tennis,” said Williams when her qualification was officially announced six weeks later after the quarterfinals of the US Open, along with that of Dinara Safina.
And yet the best was yet to come. The pain of the loss at Wimbledon had been plain to see, and it ignited the proverbial fire in this champion’s belly. Not that it was immediately obvious: first there was a retirement against Aleksandra Wozniak in the semifinals at Stanford, and a three set loss to Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals of the Olympics. But despite these setbacks Williams arrived at Flushing Meadows in The Zone, where in quick succession and spectacular fashion she beat three of the form players of the season – Venus, Safina and Jelena Jankovic – to capture her third US Open title, and the ninth Grand Slam overall.
Entering the US Open, five players had a chance to overtake Ana Ivanovic atop the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Rankings – Dementieva, Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Safina and Serena. Suddenly and somewhat improbably it was Serena who had managed it, more than five years after she last held the No.1 spot. It was the biggest gap between stints at the top; the first time around, the American was No.1 for 57 weeks from July 8 2002 until August 10, 2003, around the heady days of the so-called Serena Slam.
Had women’s tennis found a durable No.1, albeit by turning back the clock? Alas, Serena’s second run was to be short-lived. A few weeks later she lost to Li Na in the second round at Stuttgart and was subsequently forced to withdraw from the Kremlin Cup due to injury, paving the way for Jankovic to re-ascend.
All this means Serena arrives in Doha with just one match under her belt since her triumph in New York, and so she will be something of an unknown quantity. In usual circumstances that would be good news for other players, but not when a Williams sister is involved – her rivals know only too well Serena could show up and perform better than ever. She’ll need to be fit and healthy, however. Indeed, while Serena has now qualified for the Championships eight times – winning in 2001 – she has been forced to withdraw from the actual event three times, in 1999 (with a back injury), in 2000 (left foot) and 2003 (right knee). Her fans, and the player herself, can only hope history doesn’t repeat in this instance.