Serena Williams will celebrate her return to world number one on Monday by bidding to win one of the few trophies that has so far eluded the American superstar in her long and illustrious career - the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The reigning Wimbledon, US Open and Olympic champion knocked Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka off the top spot by reaching the Doha semifinals on Friday, but she faces a huge challenge when she begins her attempt to win the title at her third try.
After a bye in the first round she could face world number 11 and former Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli. Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska and 2011 winner Caroline Wozniacki also lie in her half of the draw.
“Serena Williams had already set a record when in 2008 she returned to number one more than five years after first claiming the top position, which remains the longest gap between stays at number one in WTA history,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free.
“To overcome the recent health issues she has had to deal with and reach number one for the sixth time is an incredible achievement. So far she has twice fallen in the semi-finals here and she once again faces a huge challenge right from her opening match as she tries to fill the gap in her portfolio with a first Dubai title.”
At 31 years, 4 months, 24 days, Williams has become the oldest woman to hold the world number one ranking since the introduction of computer rankings in 1975. Previously, Chris Evert was 30 years, 11 months, 3 days when she last held the top ranking the week ending Sunday, November 24, 1985.
"I never thought I would be here again," said Williams, who will enjoy her 124th week as the world’s best player as she begins her Dubai campaign. "I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to get back to number one. It has been a long road back and it's a great feeling. It has been a lot of hard work but I don't want to stop here."
Azarenka will be anxious to wrestle her number one ranking back, and the top seed also faces a stiff challenge in her opening match against either world number 12 Nadia Petrova or recent Sydney finalist Dominika Cibulkova. She could then meet American teenager Sloane Stephens, who sensationally knocked Serena Williams out of the Australian Open last month.
Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska is seeded three and will start against either of two wild cards, Laura Robson or Yulia Putintseva, and fourth seed Angelique Kerber will open against either a qualifier or veteran Roberta Vinci. In addition, 2012 finalist Julia Goerges faces a massive task in overcoming world number seven Sara Errani in the first round.
“There are so many wonderful matches to look forward to in the coming week, and competition will be as tough as it gets right from the first round,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.
“Serena Williams in particular faces a difficult draw, and the same can be said for our most recent champions, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki, who will nevertheless look forward to and welcome the opportunity to test themselves against the best player in the world.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which takes place from February 18 to March 2, is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Tickets for the event are on sale from the Box Office at the Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud which is open from 9am to 9pm daily. Grandstand ticket prices range from Dh50 for opening rounds to Dh450 for finals.
For further information about tickets, prices and the tournament visit http://www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com or phone the call centre on +971 4 4172415.
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