DOHA, October 28 – Serena Williams's dream of snatching back the world number one spot stayed alive on Tuesday as sister Venus wilted in the heat and humidity of the WTA Championships.Serena gained revenge over French Open conqueror Svetlana Kuznetsova, winning her opening group match at the 4.55 million dollar tournament 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 in an error-plagued encounter.
The American, the champion in 2001, did it the hard way against the Russian, saving two set points in the first set tie-breaker and coming back from a 1-3 deficit in the second.
The win helped Serena strike the first blow against Dinara Safina who controversially deposed her as world number one on Monday. The American second seed needs to out-perform the Russian this week to regain the year-end top spot.
"I had chances in the tie-break and my mind was still in the first set at the start of the second," said Serena, who needed an ankle injury taped at the end of the first set and committed 32 unforced errors.
Not that many people would have noticed.
By the time the match ended shortly before midnight, only a few hundred spectators remained in the 7,000-capacity Khalifa Complex arena.
Venus, the defending champion, wilted as feisty Russian Elena Dementieva staged a remarkable comeback to win 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-2 – a result that adds extra spice to the sisters’ group clash on Wednesday.
Another defeat would end Venus’s chances of making it out of the round-robin stage.
Venus had led 6-3, 3-1 before Dementieva recovered to record only her third win in 12 meetings with the great American, and first since 2004.
Dementieva, playing in her ninth season-ender, stunned the seven-time major winner, clinging on even as Williams served for the match at 6-5 in the second set.
The 28-year-old Russian levelled the clash when Williams double-faulted on a fourth set point in the tie-breaker, before sprinting into a commanding 4-0 lead in the decider.
She secured the win with a running, crosscourt backhand after a 2hr 41min marathon.
"It’s such a long time since I have beaten her, so I’m really happy about it," said Dementieva after racking up eight of the last 10 games of the contest.
"I just fought for every point. It was very emotional."
Williams added: "I had plenty of opportunities to open a big lead, but I just didn’t get enough balls in the court," said Williams, who refused to blame the sweltering conditions.
"I’m a Florida girl. It gets hot there too."
Former world number one Jelena Jankovic went down 6-2, 6-3 to Belarussian sixth seed Victoria Azarenka, who is making her tournament debut.
"I basically gave her everything. I beat myself," said 24-year-old Jankovic, a semi-finalist in 2008. "I was just a shadow of myself."
Azarenka laughed off her opponent’s summary.
"I’m glad she gave me the match and that she wasn’t in the mood," she said.
Safina, who lost all three matches she played on her debut here in 2008, opens her campaign on Wednesday against Jankovic.
The eight players are split into two round-robin groups with the top two in each making Saturday’s semi-finals with a 1.5 million-dollar cheque awaiting Sunday’s winner.