DUBAI // Venus Williams saved her best until last night, the powerful American overwhelming the emerging talent of Belarusian Victoria Azarenka to complete a successful defence of her Dubai Tennis Championship. The emphatic 6-3, 7-5 victory achieved in 90 entertaining minutes made Venus the most decorated women's player currently in action on the WTA Tour.
This was the 42nd time this popular ambassador for the women's game had collected silverware on her global travels, taking her one title ahead of Justin Henin, who recently came out of retirement. Coincidentally, Henin was the only previous player to retain the title in the decade that this event has been running. She now needs one more to break into the top-10 list of all-time champions, Martina Hingis having won 43 events before ending her career prematurely following a series of fitness problems.
The fourth-seeded Azarenka did her best to upset the form book but, like the other four would-be conquerors of the title holder over the last few days, she was summarily despatched in straight sets. Azarenka, who would have claimed a career-high world ranking of five had she brought the Williams juggernaut to a halt, rarely looked like claiming that significant honour. Nine years younger than the seven-time grand slam champion, Azarenka was unable to assert herself in the same way as she had in securing impressive wins over Vera Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska in the previous two rounds.
That was mainly because of her opponent's ferocious serving which had the on-court radar hovering around the 200kph mark on numerous occasions. The adjudication of Hawk-Eye proved crucial in determining a closely fought opening set. Venus asked for the technological aid to confirm her spontaneous view that an Azarenka second serve on break point in the sixth game should have been called long. The third seed's eyesight was proved to be spot on and that timely break of the Azarenka serve gave her the initiative which she never looked like surrendering.
She took a further large stride towards the US$350,000 (Dh1.3m) first prize by breaking Azarenka again at the start of the second set but any suggestion then that her opponent would then buckle under the pressure of having to deal with such relentless power proved well off the mark. Azarenka, who had failed to capitalise on a single break point that she earned in the opening set, made no mistake when a chance to break back in the sixth game of the second set presented itself courtesy of the wildest of Williams double faults.
A packed crowd at the Aviation Club roared their approval of that fightback and urged the underdog to step up her challenge for what would have been a fourth career title. She briefly threatened to extend the final into a deciding set but Williams held firm when serving to save the set at 4-5 and then made what proved to be the decisive break in the 11th game. A distraught Azarenka dropped her racket on the baseline after presenting Williams with two precious break points.
Only one of them was needed for the former world No 1 to get the chance to serve out for the championship. Despite a loose backhand at the start of that final game, Williams was not in the mood to throw a lifeline to her rival and a limp netted forehand by Azarenka gave Venus two championship points. Azarenka was fortunate to save the first one, having hit an unconvincing overhead but a brilliant cross-court forehand enabled her to save the second.
It was third time lucky for Venus, however, as a favourable net cord led to Azarenka missing a low forehand volley to keep the battle going. firstname.lastname@example.org