Serena Williams back on top of the world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The undisputed queen of the court is back in her rightful place, writes Paul Newman in Dubai

Dubai

The rest of the world had known it was so for many a moon and yesterday the women's world rankings finally caught up. Two years and four months after she last stood at the summit, Serena Williams was officially listed as the best female player on the planet. Given that the 31-year-old American has won 15 Grand Slam tournaments and holds the Wimbledon, US Open, Olympic and WTA Championships titles, there can be no argument this time about the world No 1 deserving her status.

Yesterday's updated list showed that Williams had replaced Victoria Azarenka at the top of the rankings, though there is a chance that the Belarusian will reclaim top spot after this week's Dubai Duty Free Championships. Azarenka arrived here yesterday fresh from her victory over Williams in the final in Doha, which ended her run of eight successive defeats to the American.

For the moment, nevertheless, the new world No 1 is relieved to have reached a goal that had clearly been a greater ambition than she had dared to disclose in recent months.

Williams admitted: "It was such a long journey and after winning Wimbledon and the US Open and the [WTA] Championships, I thought: 'I just don't think I can win any more. I don't know what it takes to be No 1.'

"But I think my never-give-up attitude really helped me for this whole journey in the past two years to continue and to just keep fighting, even when things looked horrible in the personal life or in the professional life. You've just got to stay positive and never give up."

The American said she had avoided talking about the No 1 ranking for fear of putting pressure on herself. Its importance in her mind was evident in her tearful reaction when she earned the ranking points she needed to overhaul Azarenka.

"I didn't imagine that it meant that much to me," Williams said. "I did not expect to be unable to stop crying. I didn't expect to feel that way at all. I just thought I would be happy and just move on."

No player in modern times has made as many comebacks as Williams, whose up-and-down career is reflected in the fact that this is her sixth spell at the head of the rankings.

She first reached the top in 2002, stayed there for 57 weeks, but then took more than five years to return, which remains the longest gap between reigns by any No 1.

The latest comeback is surely her most remarkable. Twenty months ago, Williams returned after a year out of the game, having had two operations after severing a tendon in her foot and then having been rushed to hospital to have a large haematoma removed from her stomach after a blood clot had travelled from a leg to her lungs.

"I never thought I'd play again," Williams said. "Then I thought I'd never be able to win tournaments or Grand Slams. No 1 was so far off. It was always a dream."

When Williams lost to the world No 111, Virginie Razzano, at last year's French Open – her first loss in the opening round in 47 Grand Slam tournaments – it seemed that her comeback had stalled.

Between that defeat and her loss to Azarenka on Sunday, however, Williams has lost just two matches. She has won six of her last nine tournaments dating back to last summer's Wimbledon, which followed the appointment of the Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou as her coach.

At 31 years and four months Williams is the oldest woman to hold the No 1 position since the computer world rankings were first introduced in 1975, Chris Evert having set the previous mark at 30 years and 11 months in 1985. Nevertheless, Williams would have to stay at the top until February 2018 in order to overtake Steffi Graf's extraordinary record of 377 weeks as world No 1.

It is 14 years since Williams won her first Grand Slam title, at the 1999 US Open, and she has seen off wave after wave of pretenders to her status as the game's best player.

Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, for example, have all reached the top, retired, come back and retired again since Williams first became world No 1.

The bad news for the American's current rivals is that she shows no signs of slowing up. "I feel really young, like I'm 22 or something," she said. "I don't know if it's because I don't play every week, but I feel great.I feel like there is so much more I can work on, and there's so much room for improvement for me. The fact that that's still available is really exciting."

In recent years the credibility of the rankings has regularly been called into question because players without a Grand Slam title to their name have reached No 1. Caroline Wozniacki spent 67 weeks at the top, Dinara Safina 26 weeks and Jelena Jankovic 18 weeks.

Williams might have spent more time at No 1 if she had performed better away from the Grand Slam tournaments – her tally of 47 titles is modest considering that she has been the world's best player for more than a decade – but her ability to scale the heights when it matters most is probably one of the reasons for her longevity.

"I've never played every week," Williams said. "I've never played 30 tournaments in a year. I didn't play juniors, so I didn't travel the world and get burned out early. I went to school. I had a couple of unfortunate injuries that put me out for a year. Maybe that helped at the end of the day."

Now that she has proved a point by returning to the top, she does not see the defence of her No 1 position as her biggest priority.

"I can't go in every week trying to do it," she said. "At this point I feel like I'm just going to put my focus on the Grand Slams."

However, should the No 1 status slip from Williams' grasp in the coming weeks, it will do nothing to change her standing in the minds of almost everyone in the game.

Sloane Stephens, the American who is seen by some as a long-term successor to Williams, said here yesterday: "I always saw her at No 1. Just because you have a computer ranking of No 1 doesn't mean she wasn't No 1 when she won the Olympics, when she won Wimbledon, when she won the US Open. The computer ranking is a computer ranking, but I think we all knew who the best player in the world was."

 



Serena stats: how she's dominated

OLDEST PLAYERS TO HOLD WORLD NO 1 RANKING

Serena Williams: 31 years, 4 months, 24 days (18 February 2013)

Chris Evert: 30 years, 11 months, 3 days (24 November 1985)

Martina Navratilova: 30 years, 9 months, 29 days (16 August 1987)

Lindsay Davenport: 29 years, 7 months, 8 days (29 January 2006)

Steffi Graf: 27 years, 9 months, 16 days (30 March 1997)

SERENA WILLIAMS' SIX REIGNS AT THE TOP

July 2002 – Aug 2003: 57 weeks

Sept 2008 – Oct 2008: 4 weeks

Feb 2009 – April 2009: 11 weeks

Oct 2009 – Oct 2009: 2 weeks

Nov 2009 – Oct 2010: 49 weeks

From Feb 2013: 1 week

MOST WEEKS AT WORLD NO 1

Steffi Graf: 377 weeks (from Aug 1987)

Martina Navratilova: 332 weeks (July 1978)

Chris Evert: 260 weeks (November 1975)

Martina Hingis: 209 weeks (March 1997)

Monica Seles: 178 weeks (March 1991)

Serena Williams: 124 weeks (July 2002)

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...