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Serena regains No. 1 ranking

American becomes oldest player to reach top at age 31

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Serena Williams made history on Friday night, rallying to beat Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open and in the process assuring herself of regaining the No. 1 ranking in the world.

In doing so, the 31-year-old Williams will become the oldest player ever to hold the WTA’s top rank.

The 15-time Grand Slam champion and second seed dropped the first set to southpaw Kvitova of the Czech Republic, but stormed back through sheer will and some clutch shot making to advance to Saturday’s semifinals, where she will face third seed Maria Sharapova in a rematch of last summer’s Olympic final.

When the WTA rankings are released next week, Williams will be on top for the first time since 2010, and will surpass fellow American Chris Evert, who was 30 back in 1985, as the oldest No. 1.

“I just never gave up,” said Williams. “I always felt like if I can just keep fighting I can just try to do it. I definitely did not play great. I think Petra played unbelievable, and I think she was just hitting shots I had no chance to get, (that) I don’t think anyone on this tour could have gotten to.”

The other semifinal will see top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus take on fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland. The top four-ranked women in the world are all still in contention for the tournament title.

Playing in tranquil conditions after several days of high winds, Williams had her serve broken by Kvitova in the sixth game of the first set and was unable to break back.

Williams earned the lone break of the second set in the eighth game to go up 5-3 and then took the set on serve.

Seventh seed Kvitova broke Williams to go up 2-0 in the third set and built the lead to 4-1, but could not retain the momentum as Williams stormed back to win six of the last seven games.

Williams really turned it up to finish off the victory, taking the final game at love on serve and completing the triumph with an ace.

Despite being one of the older players on the WTA Tour, Williams says she still has a lot of energy.

“I feel like I’m 22 or something,” she stated. “I don’t know if it’s because I don’t play every week, but I feel great.”

Sharapova posted an impressive 6-2, 6-4 win over eighth seed Samantha Stosur of Australia in their quarterfinal.

Sharapova got in 80 percent of her serves in the first set and repeatedly played to Stosur’s backhand, which is considered one of her weaknesses. The four-time Grand Slam champion, who has not lost a set in the tournament, recorded 12 aces in the victory.

The Russian broke Stosur in the first and third games of the second set to take a 3-0 lead, before Stosur finally began pushing back.

Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, broke Sharapova in the fourth game and then won her next two service games to trail 4-3. The eighth game was the pivotal one, as Stosur squandered three break points that would have leveled the set.

Sharapova dug in as Stosur tried to equalize, tearing off five aces in the game, including on all three break points she faced.

A two-time champion here, Sharapova is now two wins away from a third title and the Diamond Trophy, a diamond-encrusted tennis ball that is given to those who have won the tournament three times.

“She started playing extremely well toward the end of the second set,” she said. “I tried to remain focused and keep my concentration.”

Sharapova said her serve was crucial in the contest.

“After not serving well for the first set and the beginning of the second, on the important points when I had to I came up with really great first serves,” she stated. “That helped me win the match.”

Azarenka put away sixth seed Sara Errani of Italy 6-2, 6-2 in their quarterfinal.

Azarenka broke Errani in the second and fourth games of the opening set, then broke again in the eighth game with a ferocious forehand to claim the set.

The Belarusian displayed great versatility in the victory, pounding away relentlessly from the baseline and coming to the net as well with equal success.

Azarenka, who also has not dropped a set this week, broke in the fourth game of the second set to move ahead 3-1, then fought off a break point on serve to go up 4-1 and take control. She closed out the match with a two-handed backhand down the line for another break.

“We both produced some great tennis,” she said. “There were some long, exciting rallies. Sara is a great fighter and she has improved a lot in the past year.

“I really felt like I took big advantage of the important moments, stayed aggressive and really dictated my game, which was the key for me to go ahead.”

Radwanska beat 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-2, 7-5 in the day’s last quarterfinal.

Benneteau stuns Federer

ROTTERDAM NETHERLANDS
AP

Julien Benneteau upset the sluggish Roger Federer 6-3, 7-5 on Friday to reach the semifinals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament.

Defending champion Federer struggled with his serve and the timing of his ground shots throughout the match and Benneteau capitalized, punishing Federer on his second serves, for his second victory over the Swiss master.

“It is one of the biggest wins, for sure,” the 39-ranked Frenchman said.

“To play against Roger, Friday night, full house, it’s a dream and I played like in a dream.”