DOHA // Serena Williams has spent much of the last year causing and sparking controversy. The imposing American will do well to keep the lid on her explosive temper in Qatar this week after arriving at the season-ending Sony Ericsson Tour championships to discover that her latest spell as world No 1 lasted only two weeks. Serena, who won two of the four major titles - the Australian Open and Wimbledon - has been the most vociferous member of a sizeable lobby who have questioned how Russia's Dinara Safina can rise to the top of the rankings without capturing a single grand slam.
It seemed the younger of the two Californian sisters was going to be appeased with the honour of going into the next campaign standing on the top rung of the ladder because she finally chased down her nemesis at the China Open earlier this month and a comparatively insignificant second round victory earned her just enough points to overtake Safina. The gap was a mere five points, however (7,945 to 7,940) so when the points gained from last year's Tour championships are removed today from the 52-week cycle Safina will be deducted the 210 she earned simply for turning up (she lost all three of her round robin matches) while Serena will have 370 knocked off her total for winning one group match - against Safina.
So the thorny topic is bound to be the focal point of today's briefings with the eight players who have qualified for the elite tournament which will be defended by Venus Williams. Making the pill even more bitter for Serena to swallow is the fact that Safina regains the top ranking in the wake of the latest in a series of recent embarrassments. The Russian has won only three matches in her last four tournaments and it would be no surprise were she to be whitewashed here for the second year running.
Serena would then claim the top ranking for the fifth time in a career which has brought 11 grand slam triumphs by winning more matches than her Russian rival. That promises to sharpen the American's focus at a time when she is still under the threat of suspension as a result of a verbal tirade at a female line judge at the end of her US Open semi-final against the eventual champion Kim Clijsters.
Clijsters began her comeback too late to be in with a chance of making the Doha finale. Last to make it into the field of eight chasing a first prize of US$1.55million (Dh5.68m) was the popular Serbian Jelena Jankovic, who did just enough in Moscow last week to claim the one undecided qualifying place. Accompanying Safina and the Williams sisters here are Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka.