Serena Williams celebrated her recapture of the world number one ranking with her best performance of the year in a 6-3, 6-2 trouncing of Maria Sharapova to reach the Qatar Open final on Saturday.
Spectacularly heavy hitting carried the 15-time Grand Slam title-winner into Sunday’s final against top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
Saturday’s defeat for French Open champion Sharapova was the Russian’s first in Doha where she had won the title in both her previous appearances.
Williams showed few signs of the back and ankle injuries or of the cold which had been bothering her, and it was as if regaining the top spot, as she will on Monday, had removed the shackles from her mind and body.
It also earned Williams a final against Australian Open winner Azarenka and gives her a chance to prove she is indeed better than an opponent who will hold the top spot for just one more day.
Williams’ standard was a revelation.
Gone was the heavy movement which weighed her down during her narrow escape against Petra Kvitova in Friday’s quarter-finals, and in its place was dynamic early ball hitting to follow up the best serve in the women’s game.
The 31-year-old, who will be chasing a 48th career title on Sunday, also served far better than previously this week, and once Sharapova had delivered a double fault to drop serve in the sixth game Williams got on top and never looked back.
“Maria always plays well and consistently and I am just trying to be consistent as well,” said Williams, who will become the oldest woman to hold the top ranking on Monday.
Securing the number one ranking the day before “definitely took the pressure off,” Williams admitted.
“It was definitely the best I played here. I had to play better. I’m playing a player that’s very consistent, doesn’t lose often, just usually in finals and semis. So I had to be on my game today”.
Sharapova has now lost 10 successive times to the American.
“Once she got the break, she served it out quite well. She’s a very physical player, and you have to create something. She generates a lot of power, whether it’s a hard ball or not so much, she does a really good job of that,” said Sharapova.
Azarenka, the only leading player in the world who remains unbeaten this year, also looked impressive, achieving her 13th successive win of 2013.
The top-seeded Belarusian did that with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, a thumping result against the fourth best player in the world and one which might lead to back-to-back defence of titles.
Azarenka successfully defended the Australian Open last month.
“I’ve grown up a little bit,” said Azarenka. “It’s maturity and a little more experience. The beginning of last year was a kick start for me to find more rhythm and step up my game.
“I also love it here (in Doha) and it feels like home, so I am glad I am in the final again.”