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World No.1 Serena won’t have it all her own way

Intense competition in the women’s game will be reflected in Dubai

Image Credit: AFP
Serena Williams
Gulf News

Dubai: Friday’s feat of reaching the semi-finals at the Qatar Open in neighbouring Doha ensured Serena Williams a crack at her own little bit of tennis history, as she made a return to the top of the women’s rankings once again.

Starting from Monday, Serena will be spending her 124th week as the world number one, and in doing so, she will also be the player to watch in Dubai as she chases the records of five other greats: Steffi Graf (377 weeks); Martina Navratilova (332); Chris Evert (260); Martina Hingis (209) and Monica Seles (178).

Amid this shuffle at the top of the women’s rankings over the next week, Dubai will host 17 of the top-20 players, which may well become 18 if Maria Sharapova can be lured to compete and also launch her ‘Sugarpova’ candy range at The Dubai Mall.

Missing from the list of 20 will be China’s Li Na and American sensation Sloane Stephens, who famously knocked out the Williams in the quarters at last month’s Australian Open to hand the veteran American only a third loss in nearly one year.

However, the British crowd will get a glimpse of yet another fast-improving teen Laura Robson as she becomes one of three wild cards — the others being France’s Marion Bartoli and Kazakh girl Yulia Putintseva, a losing finalist at last year’s Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge.

The closeness of the field only signifies how intense the women’s game has become. Gone are the days when being in the top-100 was enough to gain entry into a tournament of this stature. The top five or even the top-10 women’s players are never at ease on their pedestal given the increased competition.

“An average time spent at a women’s match in the past used to be as less than half an hour. This is no longer the case as women have become so intense in their approach that the current average time has risen to one hour and even an hour and a half,” said Tournament director Salah Tahlak.

“Not only has the intensity increased, the quality of the women’s game has also gone up substantially, and this can only be good for the spectators,” he added.

This will certainly be the case at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open, with Serena Williams needing to be at the top of her game throughout her five matches this week. Other favourites like Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and defending Dubai champion Agnieszka Radwanska will also have to be on their guard against many threats.

Saturday’s qualifiers kick-started eight days of tennis action, which is sure to be intense and enjoyable.