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20 April 2024

Serena, Sharapova, Azarenka aim for top ranking in Doha

Sharapova was at her most ruthless against American teenage wildcard Beatrice Capra. (AFP)


World number one Victoria Azarenka has insulated herself against any potential disappointment, should Wimbledon and US Open champion Serena Williams takes away her top ranking during the Qatar Open this week.

The Belarussian has only beaten the American once in 12 attempts but has her thoughts prepared for twin scenarios which could cause her significant setbacks at the $2,369,000 tournament.

Williams only needs to win three matches to regain top spot, and might also fancy herself to take away Azarenka's title if they meet in Sunday's final if the seedings go to form.

"Well I'm not happy about it," Azarenka admitted when her head-to-head record against Williams was mentioned. "But I don't really think about it that way anyway.

"It's in the past, and I never really look in the past. I make room for new memories in the future you know - to have my full focus, my full attention, to live in the present and in the future."

The immediate future suggests a last 16 meeting with Dominika Cibulkova, the tenacious Slovakian, a quarter-final with Sara Errani, the vastly improved Italian, and a semi-final against Agnieszka Radwanska, the world number four from Poland with whom she had a contentious match here last year.

An encounter with Williams could affect the positive mindset that Azarenka has developed since winning the first of her two Australian Open titles 13 months ago, but she declared she is unaffected.

"For me It doesn't matter if I have to play Serena in any tournament. I would love to play her on any given day," she claimed. "I think she is a great champion and a great challenge to have.

"If it happens here, it happens here, and if it happens any other week, it's another week. I'm just looking forward to accepting any challenge that is thrown at me."

Azarenka also claimed that capturing a Grand Slam title - as she did in her last tournament at Melbourne - is more important than the world number one ranking. Winning any tournament is always the main aim, she said, with the ranking "just a bonus" which comes with it.

This means that she attempts to see Williams with a similar mindset as for other opponents. "I don't try to think about who's going to stop me, you know," she said, when asked who might do so.

"Whoever is in front of me, I'm trying to beat them. I will never think of who is going to stop me. I'm just going to think that whoever I have on the other side of the net can't stop me."

Another player who could take away Azarenka's number one ranking this week is Maria Sharapova, though that would require Azarenka to fail to reach the final and Williams to fail to reach the semi-final.

The Russian diva had mental defences at the ready for the three-way rivalry which is attracting the media.

"It certainly makes for an exciting story-line, but from a personal perspective, you know, the further you go in the week the better chance you give yourself to regain that ranking," she said.

"It will also be depending on other players' results, so it's tough to focus on it (the number one ranking) too much. I think all of us will be focusing on just taking one step at a time."

The only other player to challenge for the top spot recently is Caroline Wozniacki, who was number one for 15 months until losing it to Sharapova here a year ago.

The tenth seeded Dane began with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Mervana Jugic-Salkic, a lucky loser from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and could go on to a semi-final with Azarenka.