Victoria Azarenka avenged the loss of her world No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams by beating the American for only the second time in 13 attempts to successfully defend her Qatar Open title on Sunday.
The Belarussian’s 7-6 (8/6), 2-6, 6-3 win over the legendary American also completed back-to-back title defenses, as last month she also defended the Australian Open title in Melbourne.
“I just wanted to fight and give it my best, and give myself every opportunity,” said Azarenka, when asked how she recovered from the one-sided loss of the second set.
“I started at love-30 down and it was ‘you have to keep it together and pull it around.’ Serena was on a roll. I knew she would bring her A game, and I was really glad I could stay tough and focussed,” she said.
Williams, 31, insisted she would take comfort from becoming the oldest woman to take the world No. 1 spot yesterday.
“I can’t say that I’m depressed like I am whenever I lose. I’m definitely not happy, but I’m No. 1,” she said.
“It was such a long journey, and after winning Wimbledon and the US Open and the [season-ending] Championships, I thought, I just don’t think I can win anymore,” Williams said.
“I don’t know what it takes to be No. 1. So it was awesome to come here and achieve that goal,” she said.
Azarenka was helped by Williams making the worst of starts. She was twice break point down in her opening service game, but held on. She followed it with two double faults and two unforced errors to drop serve in her second service game.
Unforced errors continued to spray from Williams’ racket, especially on the forehand, and by the fourth game she was showing signs of fretting, looking repeatedly at her camp and grimacing. At that stage Azarenka had won 12 straight points and was hitting the ball well, with a clear game plan to strike as early and as far up the court as possible, often targeting the Williams forehand. Williams responded by ditching her racket.
The new one soon brought improvements, but Azarenka had advanced to 4-2 before Williams broke back. She also complained to the umpire about Azarenka repeatedly putting her hand up before receiving serve, affecting her rhythm.
Williams’ aura of frustration continued into the tie-break even though by then she was bombarding Azarenka far more heavily.
She came from 2-5 down to earn a set point at 6-5, only for Azarenka to save it with an excellent combination of a solid return and a heavy backhand drive.
When Azarenka immediately bettered it with a spectacular inside-out return of serve winner to reach 7-6, she converted her set point at once. However, the second set was very different. Azarenka’s level dropped just a little, and Williams’ forehand drives were rapidly improving.
Williams gave Azarenka several looks at second serves in her first service game of the final set and was immediately punished by the defending champion hitting some forcing returns and trenchant winners.
Azarenka advanced to 3-0 before Williams responded to another threat to her service game — one which might have taken the match away from her — with four aces.
However, Williams was unable to repeat the escape act that she had against Petra Kvitova from 1-4 down in the final set of their quarter-final on Friday.
“It’s been great,” Williams nevertheless said, having achieved her main aim of the week. “It was a good match overall. Victoria played really well, and did a great job.”