Clijsters and Wozniacki shine in Doha as Dementieva quits
There were naysayers who wrote off the WTA Championships before they had begun.
The year-end tournament between the best eight women on the tour was missing some of the major players of 2010 because of injury: key amongst them the Williams sisters and Justine Henin.
But ahead of Doha, the radiant young Dane, Caroline Wozniacki, had risen to the No1 ranking in the world and Russian Vera Zvonareva was close behind at No2. With the most recent Grand Slam champion, Belgian Kim Clijsters at No4, also in Doha, and the naysayers started to look a little out of touch.
Yet much continued to be made of the fact that the new No1 had yet to beat the major champions of the women’s game: the two Williams and the two Belgians.
In practice, Wozniacki had only had the opportunity to play one of those four women since hitting her stride in 2010 -a year in which she won six titles and the last 24 out of 25 matches -and that opportunity yielded a tight three-setter against Henin in Miami back in the spring.
Wozniacki’s one and only match against Clijsters had been in the final of the US Open last year -some achievement in itself for a 19-year-old -but hot and humid Doha offered up the possibility of a rematch if both managed to advance past their respective round robin pools.
The Dane was the first to fulfil her part of the bargain and also, in the process, assured herself of the year-end No1 ranking.
In her first match against Elena Dementieva, it looked for all the world as though Wozniacki would be unstoppable as she defeated the graceful Russian, 6-1, 6-1. But she lost unexpectedly to Sam Stosur so had to beat Francesca Schiavone to advance.
The charismatic Schiavone, a surprising and popular winner at Roland Garros, broke into the top 10 in 2010 for the first time in her 12-year career, and her first set against Wozniacki showed just why she is such a handful, and she zipped her way to a 6-3 first set.
But Wozniacki is a fearless and focused young woman, and she produced two sets of percentage tennis that showcased her solid all-court tactics and her ability to outrun even the most resilient of opponents.
Clijsters, in her pool, also had to battle hard against Victoria Azarenka. She dropped the second set and littered her game with double faults and over-long forehands, just as she had against Jelena Jankovic in her opening match, but she did enough to seal her semi-final berth as well.
There were few others in the tournament who seemed likely to keep pace with Wozniacki except, perhaps, the woman who had been her bÃƒÂªte noir all year, Zvonareva.
They stood at three all in their head-to-head and two apiece in meetings this year. Now both had booked a place in the semi-finals to play one another again. However, Wozniacki was not to be denied. The superior seed fought to a 7-5 first set and then rushed her way through the weary Russian, 6-0.
Clijsters did the same, beating Stosur 7-6, 6-1 to set up the ideal final. On one side, the young Dane trying to claim her first major title against one of the game’s Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnames’. On the other, the woman who had last won the year-end title back in 2001 and 2002.
This was Clijsters first tournament since the US Open, and she had undergone foot surgery in the interim, but she is no ordinary player. She rushed to a 6-3 first set and went 4-1 up in the second. It seemed all over, but Wozniacki is no ordinary player, either. Just as she had dug deep to fight back against Schiavone, so she did against Clijsters, and not only took the second set but went a break up in the third.
The two women were almost mirror images of each other -flaxen hair pulled back tightly from high foreheads, dressed in black, nimble and flexible around the court, and rushing the net to take the initiative. Indeed it was sometimes difficult to pick one from the other. Even the often-wayward forehand of the Dane started to score outright winners.
In the end, though, it was the woman who had played the fewer tournaments who maintained the pressure: Clijsters was merciless. She broke, was almost broken back at the last, but finally overpowered Wozniacki to win a popular and emotional victory.
Surely, though, it cannot be long before Wozniacki captures one of the big events in the calendar and silences the naysayers for good. This was very nearly that occasion, but there is a Grand Slam just around the corner.
While Wozniacki is here to stay, another much-loved woman is not. In an emotional on-court announcement after her loss to Schiavone, the admirable Dementieva told the crowd and her fellow players that Doha would be her last tournament.
The Russian, who reached two Grand Slam finals in her career, opened 2010 with two title wins, but injury wrecked her French Open and Wimbledon campaigns. She had qualified for the WTA Championships for the 10th time -she reached the semi-finals in both 2000 and 2008. Most memorable of all, she won gold at the Beijing Olympics, taking out Serena Williams, Zvonareva, and Dinara Safina on the way.
Her departure came as a shock to her many admirers and fellow players. Great player, role model, tennis ambassador, and gracious opponent, she will be missed.
Her mother -a familiar nerve-wracked face at every one of her daughter’s games -held her composure during the emotional announcement. Few others could.