Five thoughts about Serena Williams returning to world number one:
For those who only take a casual interest in tennis, this must be a little confusing. It was less than a month ago that Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title, and on Sunday Azarenka won a three-setter against Serena Williams in the final of a tournament in Qatar. But then on Monday morning, when the ranking computer spits out the latest list, Serena has deposed Azarenka. While there is no disputing that Williams is the greatest player of her generation – there is a good argument to suggest she’s the greatest of all time – this was badly choreographed. For simplicity’s sake, to make this an easier story to follow for anyone beyond the tennis hardcore, it would have been far better if the Californian hadn’t lost to the woman she was replacing.
Still, the upside to that was that her defeat keeps things interesting. Especially as the match wasn’t played in the friendliest of atmospheres, with Williams complaining to the umpire about the amount of time that Azarenka was taking to settle before receiving serve.
Two years ago, after the news broke that Williams had had emergency treatment to remove a blood clot on her lung, there was some doubt whether she would ever play competitive tennis again. But now the 31-year-old is the oldest woman to have held the top ranking (it was previously Chris Evert, who was 30 when she was on top of the rankings in the middle of the 1980s). Remember how it used to be said that the Williams sisters would have retired by their mid to late twenties? And still they play on, helped by the long breaks they have taken (forced and unforced) and their enduring love for competition and for the sport. Don’t believe what Serena said last year, that she doesn’t like tennis that much. That’s about as credible as the Andre Agassi refrain that he hated tennis with a deep and dark passion.
Older sister Venus is never going to reach the top again. She’s never going to be top five again either. But, currently just outside the top 20, she’s still relevant.
When Williams rolls into Paris this spring, she will feel as though she has plenty to prove. Don’t imagine that Serena’s ambition will have been sated by this return to the top. She will want to stay there until the French Open and beyond. Last year’s tournament brought a teary first-round defeat. This year’s French Open promises to be quite different.