Serena Williams showed tennis was not just the domain of teenagers as she climbed back to the top of the world rankings on Friday, becoming the oldest female to hold the coveted position at the age of 31.
The American is world No. 1 for the sixth time in her storied career after finishing off former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 with a thumping ace in the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open.
Williams was due to meet Russian Maria Sharapova, who has also been in hot pursuit of the No. 1 ranking, in the semi-finals yesterday.
“I’m so sensitive nowadays, I’m always crying! I’ve just been through so much and never thought I’d be here again,” Williams, who recovered from 4-1 down in the third set, told the crowd as she fought back tears.
“Thank you Jehovah [she is a Jehovah’s Witness] for giving me another chance,” she said.
At 31 years, four months and 24 days, she will be the oldest woman in the top spot since computer rankings began in 1975. Williams eclipses fellow American Chris Evert, who was 30 years, 11 months and three days when she last held the ranking in 1985.
Since then teenagers like Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Sharapova have often been world No. 1, but more than a decade after first claiming top spot, 15-time Grand Slam champion Williams showed she still hungers for success.
It was little wonder the second seed was so emotional after all the injuries, illnesses and surgery she has endured since last relinquishing the top spot in October 2010.
No. 1 was not a priority two years ago for Williams. Just returning the court was a challenge. Shortly after winning Wimbledon in 2010, she cut her feet on broken glass while on her way out of a restaurant in Germany. That led to two operations on her right foot.
Later, she got clots in her lungs and needed to inject herself with a blood thinner. Those shots led to a pool of blood gathering under her stomach’s skin, requiring another hospital procedure.
While Williams relishes the prospect of beginning her 124th non-consecutive week as the world’s best female player when the new rankings are officially unveiled tomorrow, Sharapova must take consolation from continuing to progress in Doha.
The Russian brushed aside Australia’s Samantha Stosur 6-2, 6-4 on Friday having not dropped a set in her three matches, a feat equalled by outgoing world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who saw off Italian Sara Errani 6-2, 6-2.
“The score never tells the whole story, really. We had a lot of really long rallies. I was expecting that. She’s a very good fighter,” Azarenka said.
“I really felt like I took big advantage of the important moments, stayed aggressive, and really dictated my game,” she said.
Third seed Sharapova, who held an 11-2 career record over Stosur going into the match, was never threatened in her 82-minute victory.
Top seed Azarenka was due to face Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals after the fourth seed overcame former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-2, 7-5 in the late match.