Why Serena Williams is the real world number one
Next week Serena Williams will become the oldest woman in a long while to hold the WTA’s world No. 1 ranking.
Her quarter-final victory over Petra Kvitova in Doha has ensured she will ascend to the top of the rankings in the week starting February 18, 2013, unseating Victoria Azarenka, whose dominant spell so far this season has not been enough to stay on top for long.
If you look at the second half of last year, Williams deserves the No. 1 rank, given her dominance over Azarenka and Maria Sharapova last year.
Since hiring Patrick Mouratoglou as her coach in June last year, Williams has only lost two matches, against Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati last year and this year’s Australian Open quarter-final against Sloane Stephens.
It caps off a stunning comeback. More than 18 months ago, the American had plunged to from 25 to 175, following a lengthy spell in which she injured her foot during Wimbledon celebrations in Germany and was unable to play for almost 12 months.
Many thought that it would be the end of Serena Williams. It wasn’t. She was able to reach the final of the US Open in 2011, defeating Victoria Azarenka and then world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki en route, before falling to Samantha Stosur.
She ended 2011 ranked world No. 12 and with nothing to defend for the first half of 2012, she was in a strong position to re-enter the top 10 during the season. That’s what she did.
Williams was slow to get going in 2012, suffering an unexpected fourth-round loss to Ekaterina Makarova at the Australian Open. Results were uninspiring until the clay court season started.
She got on a roll, winning in Charleston and Madrid (beating Azarenka in the final in the latter tournament) and getting to within a match of the final in Rome before being forced to withdraw.
But all this good form she carried into Roland Garros counted for nothing when the American suffered a shocking first round loss at the hands of Virginie Razzano. It was the first time she had ever lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament (her previous worst result was on her Grand Slam debut at the 1998 Australian Open, when she lost to her sister Venus in the second round).
What we didn’t know was that it would trigger the dominance that we are currently seeing from her.
She entered Wimbledon seeded sixth. She came close to disaster twice in the early rounds, in the third round against Zheng Jie and in the fourth against Yaroslava Shvedova (who had given Sara Errani a golden bagel in the previous round).
She then proceeded to end the title defence of Petra Kvitova and defeated Azarenka in the semis. Her performance made her an instant favourite to win Wimbledon and her final opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, was not expected to challenge her. Or was she?
After Serena took the first set 6-1, it seemed like a regulation win, until Radwanska rallied to take the match into a third set. Serena held on to win her first Grand Slam title in two years, return to the top four, and cap off a great comeback to tennis.
What followed was an endless run of domination from the American. She won the Olympic gold medal on the very same grass courts at the All England Club, dropping just 17 games en route and not dropping a set. This culminated in dominant victories over Azarenka in the semi-finals and Sharapova in the final, where she dropped just four games.
Moving onto the US Open, she was again unstoppable as she won her fourth title in New York. Nobody was able to challenge her in the early rounds and the only resistance came from Azarenka in a classic three-set final which had it all: drama, tension, and unbearable moments.
Azarenka was just two points away from the championship with Serena serving at 3-5 down in the decider until the American reeled off four games in a row to win the title. That just shows how good Serena is.
In the year-end championships in Istanbul, Williams was again too good, not dropping a set in five matches as she marched all the way to the title, defeating Sharapova in the championship match and avenging the 2004 decider when Sharapova won after trailing 4-0 in the final set.
These phenomenal results saw Serena Williams finish the year ranked third behind Azarenka and Sharapova.
It was thought that Serena would carry her dominance into season 2013, and all went to script when she won the title in Brisbane, thumping Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final.
She then had a dominant run through the early rounds of the Australian Open, until a back injury proved her undoing in the quarter-finals against the woman I like to call “the next Serena Williams”, Sloane Stephens.
And now, finally, to Doha. Now we know why Williams wanted to play through the Middle East series. To regain that top ranking she last held on October 10, 2010.
Victory over Petra Kvitova ensured her return to the world’s top ranking, which she will hold for at least a week, depending how she and Azarenka go in a Dubai tournament that neither played last year.
Last year we saw Roger Federer become the oldest man to ever be ranked world No. 1, after his seventh Wimbledon title.
Now Williams has done the same (though it’s been seven and a half months since she won Wimbledon). It will also be the first time Novak Djokovic and Williams have held the top ranking in the ATP and WTA simultaneously.
It’ll be interesting to see how long Williams can hold on. Last year, Federer reigned for four months before Djokovic reclaimed the ranking on the eve of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Age seems to be no barrier for either Federer or Williams, as their Wimbledon titles last year can attest.