On Monday, when the rankings come out, Serena Williams will be the world number 1 for the sixth time in her extraordinary career. She will also be the oldest player to reach the top spot in the history of the WTA ranking system. (In 1985, Chris Evert was ranked number 1 when she was not quite 31.)
Williams had to win her Doha quarterfinal to get to the top ranking, and it wasn't that easy for her to do. She has the flu, and wasn't feeling that well today. And she had to face Petra Kvitova, who--since she's been in Doha--has looked like....well, like Petra Kvitova. The Czech star got her mojo back in Doha. She played a beautiful set against an in-form but too-dizzy-to-continue Ekaterina Makarova, and today, she took her first set ever off of "The Serena."
In the first set, Kvitova's serve and forehand were simply on fire, and though her opponent wasn't feeling well, it would be an injustice to slight Kvitova in any way. After she broke Williams to go up 4-2, she held at love. Williams saved two set points on her serve, but Kvitova won the set 6-3 on her own serve.
Both of these players are great servers and great retrievers (Kvitova's defensive game has improved over the years, and when she's using her head, she produces some fine defense). Also, Kvitova's volleys were spot-on. But who wants to deal with a sick and injured Serena Williams? That's even worse than dealing with a healthy Serena Williams. The one thing Williams does exceptionally well, no matter what (well, except when her back locks at the Australian Open), is serve. Kvitova has a great, and tricky, service game, but it isn't as reliable as Williams' service game. Williams practically willed herself to win the second set 6-3.
The third set was a true thriller. Kvitova went up 4-1, but anyone who watches a lot of tennis knows that 4-1 is a very deceptive scoreline. It often looks better than it really is. Williams fought her way to 4-all, then broke Kvitova at 5-all. And this was when Kvitova stopped looking really "2011"--she pulled back, she looked vulnerable. And before you could say "Who has the best service game in the history of women's tennis?" Williams took the set 7-5.
There are many times when one is led to say "This is the best I've ever seen Serena serve." Who knows what the "best" is (though it can undoubtedly be found at Wimbledon)? But today, when she wasn't feeling that well, and she really, really needed her serve, she brought it. All in all, it was a great match. Kvitova looked so switched on, and it was a pleasure to see that. Though she lost, Kvitova should take away some solid confidence from this match; she performed very well indeed.
Williams cried during her post-match interview. Today's match was exceptional by any standard, but considering Williams' history, it was a truly remarkable moment. Williams knocked Victoria Azarenka out of the top spot. However, Azarenka also advanced to the semifinals, after beating Sara Errani in straight sets.
I am outraged by the Tennis TV (later shown on The Tennis Channel) commentators. When a point was contested by Errani and the umpire (the same one who sat spinelessly while the Wozniacki clan acted out), revealed that she "couldn't remember" where a ball landed, she called on Azarenka to help her out. First, I find that really inappropriate; it isn't Azarenka's job to call the match. And if anyone else in the WTA or the ATP had been in her position, the commentators would have rushed to say "That's not her job!" But because it was Azarenka, there was "discussion" over whether the Australian Open champion did the "right" thing when she declared she couldn't answer the question.
Is there no end to the (sometimes veiled, but obvious to anyone who keeps up) hostility toward Azarenka? Will she ever stop being punished for having a personality that doesn't conform to the standards imposed on WTA players? Will the sports media ever stop and think, or just continue to perpetuate the myth of "bad Vika"? "Strong is beautiful"--right.
Probably to no one's surprise, Maria Sharapova beat Sam Stosur in straight sets. Agnieszka Radwanska beat Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets, too, which means that the top four seeds will play in the semifinals. But the results of the semifinal draw are predictable. Azarenka owns Radwanska, and if the Polish star were to win, it would be really big WTA news. And then there's the other semifinal: Sharapova hasn't beaten Williams since 2004.
Of course, there's always the possibility that Williams' flu will get worse, and that even she won't be able to rise above illness. That scenario would most likely put Sharapova against Azarenka in the final, and--in the words of Azarenka--good luck with that. The Belarusian player has been dominant over Sharapova for a while.
In doubles, all of the remaining seeded teams won today. Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won the hard way, however: They defeated Daniela Hantuchova and Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 4-6, 13-11.