Venus Crowned Queen in Doha
DOHA, Qatar - They were the last two to qualify and after a tough week they were the last two standing. Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva, the No.7 and No.8 seeds at the Sony Ericsson Championships - Doha 2008, went unbeaten in their respective round robin groups and won tight semifinals to set up the unlikely - at least on paper - title match. And while Zvonareva's form was strong it wasn't enough to flip a decidedly lopsided head-to-head trend, as she began strongly but eventually fell for the sixth straight time to Williams, 67(5) 60 62.
Both Williams and Zvonareva were surprise packages in round robin play, going 3-0 in their respective groups. Williams opened with a straight set win over No.2 seed Dinara Safina before notching three set wins over No.5 seed Elena Dementieva and No.3 seed Serena Williams; Zvonareva beat No.6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets before taking out No.4 seed Ana Ivanovic and No.1 seed Jelena Jankovic in three-setters. Both were tested in the semifinals but again emerged victorious, with Zvonareva outlasting Dementieva, 76(7) 36 63, and Williams beating Jankovic, 62 26 63.
The tournament's last two qualifiers waged an intense battle in the first set of the final. Zvonareva drew first blood, breaking serve and building a 5-2 lead, even holding four set points at 5-3. Williams would fight back to take the set to a tie-break, and storm to a 5-1 lead once there; but her feisty Russian foe, who went into the final with the equal-most match wins on the season (65, with Jankovic), would not give any ground, reeling off six points in a row to take a one set lead.
Williams wouldn't have any of that, however. She barrelled through the second set at love and got through the third set almost as easily, as her huge serve and penetrating groundstrokes were just too much for a shell-shocked Zvonareva.
The Championships-Championships double - capturing The Championships, Wimbledon and the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in the same season - has only happened three times in the last 10 years, in 1999 (Lindsay Davenport), 2004 (Maria Sharapova) and now 2008 (Williams). Williams had 36 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles titles coming into this season, but with the two aforementioned titles and an indoor title in Zürich last month, she now has 39.
Zvonareva never had as much success against the Top 10 as she did in Doha this week. Before 2008 she had seven Top 10 wins, but never two in the same week; she had three more Top 10 wins during the regular season in 2008, with two of those coming in the same tournament (beating Jankovic and Dementieva at Charleston). This week she beat four Top 10 players before falling to Williams, including her second career win over a reigning world No.1, over Jankovic (she also beat then-world No.1 Sharapova at Indian Wells in March 2007).
It was a much different result from her only previous Championships attempt in 2004, when she crashed out in the round robin stage with a 0-3 record.