Doha: Serena Williams needed only one more win to become world No 1 for the first time in two-and-a-half years after reaching the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open in double quick time on Thursday.
It took the 15-time Grand Slam title winner less than an hour to complete a 6-0, 6-3 win over Urszula Radwanska, the world No 37 from Poland, to take herself to the brink of another remarkable achievement.
A year ago, after a series of injuries, Williams’ career seemed in danger. Now, after triumphs at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Olympics, and struggling against ankle and back injuries and a cold this week, she is almost back to where many believe she deserves to be — at the top.
Williams was not allowing her feelings to distract her, however, offering a smokescreen of anti-climactic words to avoid sharing premature pleasure with the crowd.
“Not really”, she said, when asked if she was thinking about becoming No 1 again. “I am so over it. It’s like everyone is thinking about it. I have a really tough opponent. It is what it is.”
Later, however, Williams’ mood altered a little. Asked what she thought of the prospect of becoming the oldest player to reach the top ranking again, she said: “It’s awesome. Since I didn’t do the youngest, I figure I’ll do the oldest.”
On Friday, she was due to face Petra Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic, who recovered from 1-3 down in the final set to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 against Nadia Petrova, the 11th seeded Russian who is a previous champion in Doha.
Earlier Victoria Azarenka, the current No 1, made an impressive statement of her right still to be considered the best player when she overwhelmed America’s Christina McHale 6-0, 6-0.
“Everything was working for me today,” said Azarenka, the defending champion in Doha who also retained her Australian Open crown last month. “When I stepped on court I felt my game. When I had a couple of difficult games I stayed focused and took advantage of that and that was the key.
“Christina has played some excellent matches and had some big wins and so I had to stay focused. I think I got rid of my frustrations [with the windy weather] yesterday.”
Azarenka next faces Sara Errani, the world No 7 from Italy, in a half of the draw that also contains Agnieszka Radwanska, the fourth-seeded Pole who was her semi-final opponent last year, and Caroline Wozniacki, the former world No 1 from Denmark.
Radwanska advanced with a craftily constructed 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) win over Ana Ivanovic, the former French Open champion from Serbia. Her reward is a quarter-final with Wozniacki, who survived a fraught encounter by 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 against Mona Barthel on an even windier outside court on which the ball sometimes threatened to bounce over the back stop and where line decisions had Wozniacki’s father-coach Piotr screaming at the umpire.
“It was all about somehow surviving out there,” said Wozniacki.
She had a consolation, though — a Valentine’s Day bouquet of roses from boyfriend Rory McIlroy, the world’s No 1 golfer.
World No 3 Maria Sharapova eased past Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3 and will face Australian eighth seed Samantha Stosur, who saw off Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 7-5, for a place in the semifinals.