Williams to end Capriati's reign as No 1

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Venus Williams, who successfully defended both the Wimbledon and United States Open singles titles last year, will take her place at the head of the women's game next Monday even if she does not win a match at this week's Dubai Duty Free Open.

Jennifer Capriati, the Australian Open and French Open champion and the reigning world No 1, is about to drop 141 ranking points, which will leave Williams five points clear of her American compatriot.

The 21-year-old Williams will become only the 10th women's world No 1 since the WTA rankings started in November 1975 and follows in the line of Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and Capriati.

"When I was younger I dreamed of winning Wimbledon and being No 1 someday," Williams said. "Now that day is very close, so I just have to keep playing well and doing well to stay there. I have been on the road for seven weeks in a row now, and I'm dreaming about going home. But the finish line is in sight, and I want to play well in Dubai."

Notoriously inactive at the start of a season, chiefly because of nagging injury problems, Venus, the older of the Williams sisters, has made impressive early gains this year, winning titles in Queensland, Paris and Antwerp. Her only setback was in losing to Seles in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open when hampered by tendinitis in a knee and a strained thigh.

In fulfilling half her father, Richard's, prediction that both his tennis-playing daughter's would rise to No 1, Venus won last week's tournament as her sibling's substitute, taking a wild card after Serena withdrew because of a thigh injury.

By defeating Belgium's Justine Henin in a hard-fought final, Williams put a notch on the Antwerp event's trophy, a diamond encrusted racket, which will be owned by the first player to win the tournament three times.

Seles, who is seeded to play Williams in next Saturday's Dubai final, ended last week's tournament in Doha dressed as an Arab princess and carrying a gold falcon trophy. It remains to be seen whether Anna Kournikova will last beyond a visit to the gold souk. Kournikova, ranked No 83, having missed most of last season because of a stress fracture to her left foot, is due to play Selima Sfar, of Tunisia, in the first round this evening. Sfar, a wild card, became the first woman from an Arab country to reach the quarter-finals of a WTA tournament here last year, but has been unable to build on that.

The winner will play Williams, who was given a first-round bye, as were the three other top seeds, Seles, Amelie Mauresmo and Sandrine Testud. Seles, projected to meet Mauresmo in the semi-finals, plays either Tatiana Poutchek, of Belarus, or Tathiana Garbin, an Italian qualifier, in the second round. Iroda Tulyaganova, of Tashkent, the fifth seed, was eliminated from Seles's half of the draw yesterday, defeated by German's Barbara Rittner, 6-2, 6-2.