Serena defeated Venus and Dinara Safina withdrew from the Championships with a back injury. Safina’s tearful exit after just two games of her first group match against Jelena Jankovic meant 11-times grand slam champion Serena was assured of ending the year as the #1 player in the world for the first time since 2002 (even before she beat sister Venus later in a midnight thriller). Serena’s opening round-robin victory against Svetlana Kuznetsova on Tuesday meant she held a 75-point lead over Safina in the rankings and though the Russian gained 70 just for walking on court against Jankovic, the battle was over.
Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Serena virtually sealed her place in the semi-finals here with a 5-7 ,6-4, 7-6 defeat of Venus to go top of Maroon Group. When told of Safina’s misfortune during a courtside interview, Serena looked genuinely shocked. “It’s a great feeling (to be world number),” the 28-year-old said. “But Dinara is such a great player that she must be really hurt because she never gives up. It’s a shame for the tournament because it would have been great if we had both got through to the final.”
The 22nd career meeting between Serena and Venus was overshadowed by news of Safina’s injury but it still produced some scintillating passages of play with both players at full tilt throughout the two-hour-41-minute contest. In a topsy turvy decider Venus stormed back from 5-3 down and had a matchpoint at 6-5 only for Serena to force a tiebreak. A stray cat briefly broke the tension in the tiebreak but it was Serena who showed her claws at the death, punching a magnificent backhand down the line to earn two match points before converting at the first opportunity with an ace. The Williams sisters' first match of the year came in Dubai, where Venus won to go ahead 10-9 in the rivalry; but Serena has won three in a row since then, at Miami, Wimbledon and now here, to surge ahead in the series, 12-10.