Serena clinches top spot

Serena clinches top spot

American topples Russia's Dinara Safina

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki serves against Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka in the WTA Championship in Doha on Wednesday. AFP

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 top of the pile for the first time since 2002 even before she beat sister Venus later in a midnight thriller.

"My body just gave up," the 23-year-old Safina told reporters after her hopes of becoming the first Russian to finish a year as world number one came to a painful end at the elite year-ending showpiece.

"I did everything possible to play here but I could not handle this pain any more."
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 semifinals here with a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 defeat of Venus to go top of Maroon Group -- a result that left her sibling's hold on the title hanging by a thread after her loss to Elena Dementieva on Tuesday.

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.

Earlier at the Khalifa Tennis Centre, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, two players who are set to challenge the Williams sisters for major honours, went toe to toe for three hours before Denmark's Wozniacki triumphed 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.

The two big movers up the rankings this year, both of whom are appearing at the Championships for the first time, fought eachother to a standstill in oppressive heat before Azarenka went into meltdown late in the third set, squandered a match point and smashed her racket frame on the purple concrete.  "After the first set I thought I was gonna be in the locker room in no time," Wozniacki, at 19 the youngest player in the draw, told reporters. "But I kept fighting."

Indeed, the surprise US Open finalist was given the runaround in the first set, but gradually found her range, breaking twice in an energy-sapping second despite losing a fifth game at 2-2 that lasted more than 20 minutes.

After a 10-minute heat break enforced because of temperatures still in the 30s Celsius despite darkness having long fallen over the Qatari capital, the screeching Azarenka again took charge in the decider, moving into a 5-3 lead.