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Serena Williams of the US celebrates after winning against the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova in their WTA Qatar Open quarterfinal on Friday in Doha. Karim Jaafar / Agence France-Presse
Williams back at pinnacle of game after beating ailment
Serena Williams was in tears on Friday after snatching an historic victory at the Qatar Open which ensured she would become the oldest woman to hold the WTA Tour's world No 1 ranking.
The 31-year-old American's 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals put her back on top of the world after an interval of 2 1/2 years during which she sometimes thought she might never play again.
Williams had been 1-4 down in the final set of an outstanding match against the Czech, and her relieved smile, heaven-ward gesture and tears in her moment of triumph gave lie to her earlier statement that the No 1 position no longer mattered.
"I am so sensitive nowadays - I am always crying, but I never thought I would be here again you know," said Williams in a reference to the pulmonary embolism from which she suffered in 2011, threatening her life as well as her career.
"I have been through so much and I never thought I would be here," she repeated.
The victory, which was due to her competitive spirit and instinct for finding a way when no clear direction is evident, earns her the top spot at an age six months older than fellow American Chris Evert did at 30 years and 11 months.
That was more than 27 years ago, underlining Williams' status as one of the all-time greats, and possibly the finest woman player there has ever been.
"When I was down I heard people cheering for me and I don't get that all the time," said Williams, who will start her 124th career week at No 1 on Monday.
That's a total only bettered by Steffi Graf (377), Martina Navratilova (332), Evert (260), Martina Hingis (209) and Monica Seles (178).
But for a while on Friday an in-form Kvitova made her look vulnerable.
The Czech had come back from deficits in the second and third sets the previous day against Nadia Petrova, and now arrived brimming with confidence and wrong-footing, flat-hit ground strokes.
Williams, who has been suffering from a cold as well as a twisted ankle and a bad back, looked sluggish and uncertain.
Her outstanding serve was not itself, and a double fault in the sixth game cost her a break of serve which eventually led to the loss of the first set.
It was the first that Kvitova had ever won against Williams, but even after leveling at one set all the American still slipped into deep trouble.
She found it hard to read her opponent's inside-out drives, could not rediscover her serving rhythm and delivered another double fault on game point which led to a three-game deficit.
"Every time I looked she was hitting winners," Williams said afterwards. "But I thought, if I can just stay in here ..."
"I am glad she is No 1," said Kvitova with good grace. "She deserves it."