Ana Ivanovic of Serbia returns the ball to Tamira Paszek of Austria during their women’s match at the Qatar Total Open 2013 at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha, yesterday.
by Denzil Pinto
DOHA: There’s plenty at stake at this week’s Qatar Total Open 2013 as top guns Serena Williams (pictured top) and Maria Sharapova (pictured below) begin their campaigns today with the aim to dethrone Victoria Azarenka as the world number one.
Azarenka holds a 355-point advantage over No.2 ranked Serena, and is 780 points ahead of third-ranked Sharapova, according to the WTA Rankings released yesterday.
The Belarusian, who beat Australia’s Sam Stosur in last year’s final in Doha, insists winning the title on February 17 is her priority for this week.
“I’m here to win the tournament and the ranking is a bonus that comes with it. There is no point to jump ahead. We still have to play the tournament,” said the 23-year-old during a press conference yesterday.
Azarenka, who successfully defended her Australian Open title last month, said she is motivated and ‘excited’ to be part of today’s era in women’s tennis.
“I think it’s exciting (for the three-way battle for top spot). But I think it’s also important for the players to keep that competitive spirit to be kind of be on the watch out,” she Azarenka, who begins her campaign tomorrow.
“It’s just extra motivation to have that living and playing in this era of such competitive tennis in women’s tennis. So many great girls are really stepping up their game. For me as a player, it’s really exciting,” added Azarenka, who is aiming to win the tournament for the second successive year.
Meanwhile, Serena, who could regain the world’s top spot after a two-and-a-half- year gap, has played down her chances of succeeding Azarenka, who she could face in the final.
“It would be great. I obviously want it, but it’s not the only thing I want, you know. So if it happens, then great. If not, I won’t miss anything, I don’t think,” said Serena.
Holder of 15 Grand Slam titles, Serena enjoyed a solid 2012 season, winning the Wimbledon, US Open, Olympic and WTA Championship season-end titles.
The 31-year-old, who suffered an ankle injury prior to her shock defeat to US teenager Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, said she will be taking the week-long tournament one day at a time.
If Serena makes it to the semi-finals, she could face Russia’s Sharapova, who has won this competition twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Like Serena, the 25-year-old has won every Grand Slam, her latest triumph coming in May at the French Open last year.
When asked about her chances of claiming the world number one spot, which she held in 2005, Sharapova said: “From a personal perspective I think the further you go in the week, the better chance you give yourself to regain that ranking. I think all of us will be focusing on just one step at a time. It obviously depends on other players’ results, so it’s tough to really focus on that too much.” THE PENINSULA