Venus milestone makes it sweet sixteen

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The Independent Online

It is 16 years since Venus Williams made her professional debut but the world No 5 is determined to go on for a good while yet. Williams played her 700th singles match here last night and claimed her 42nd title when she beat Victoria Azarenka 6-3 7-5 in the final of the Barclays Dubai Championships.

Azarenka, a 20-year-old from Belarus who is breathing down Williams' neck in the world rankings, is one of the best of the next generation but found herself overpowered as her opponent successfully defended her title. In winning the $350,000 (about £226,000) first prize Williams took her career winnings to nearly $26m (£16.8m). She has played 10 matches this year and lost just once, to Li Na in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

There had been little to choose between the two women until Azarenka dropped her serve on a double fault in the sixth game. Williams served out to take the first set in just 35 minutes.

When Williams went 2-0 up in the second set it seemed that the end would be swift, but Azarenka broke back to level at 3-3. Williams held serve to stay in the set at 4-5 and in the following game Azarenka cracked under the pressure of the American's powerful returns. Williams scorned her first two match points when serving at 6-5 but took the third as Azarenka volleyed into the net.

The men's competition, featuring six of the world's top 10 players, begins here tomorrow. In yesterday's draw Andy Murray was paired with a qualifier in the first round. He is seeded to meet Mikhail Youzhny in the quarter-finals and Roger Federer, his conqueror in the Australian Open final three weeks ago, in the semi-finals. Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko are the top seeds in the other half of the draw.