"Now that the curtain raiser is complete, we can get down to the real business." That seems to be a popular perspective when comparing last week's WTA Dubai Tennis Championships to this week's men's event.For 10 years now, the women's tournament has been the precursor to the ATP competition, but rarely has it been so obvious who would be departing the Aviation Club, amid smiles and fireworks, with the title firmly in her grasp at the end of the week.
Venus Williams's victory did not simply ensure she became the most decorated player on the WTA Tour, but also strengthened widespread beliefs that the women's game is seriously lacking in consistent challengers to the 29-year-old American and her younger sister Serena. Such was the lack of battling strength on show in the Emirates last week that Venus, ranked fifth in the world, was able to claim her 42nd Tour title without even dropping a set.
Yet it was not due to a lack of effort - or funds - from the tournament organisers. Despite being dealt a US$300,000 (Dh1.1 million) fine last year as a result of the Shahar Peer shambles, the tournament still managed to, initially at least, attract the top 10 women in the world to these shores. The top two seeds, Serena and Dinara Safina, unavoidably withdrew injured from the $1.6m event late in the preceding week, but history indicates the Russian, had she been forced to face Venus, would not have fared much better than eventual finalist Victoria Azarenka, who went down 6-3, 7-5 on Saturday night.
A humiliating 6-1, 6-0 defeat suffered at Wimbledon last year backs up such a damning indictment.Likewise, Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 3 who has never beaten either of the Williams sisters, was unlikely to be up to the task: the Dane fell in the quarter-finals to Peer, the same 22-year-old who Venus dominated in the final four. The fourth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, meanwhile, bowed out as early as the third round after losing to a qualifier.
In a nutshell, last year the women's event at the Dubai Tennis Championships lacked an Israeli; this year it lacked a Belgian. Or two.The recent return of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin has done for women's tennis what the return of Floyd Mayweather Jr did for boxing and Lance Armstrong for cycling: it has reinvigorated the game by adding a sense of romanticism to a sport sorely lacking in it.Henin's marvellous voyage to the final of the Australian Open four weeks ago followed Clijsters's successful US Open campaign last year and proved to the world that there is more to women's tennis than a sister act from California.
Between May 2007, when Clijsters retired, and August 2009, when she returned at Flushing Meadows, the Williams sisters won six of the 11 grand slams on offer. Remove Henin's victories at the 2007 French Open and the US Open that same year before she temporarily quit the sport in May 2008, and Venus and Serena, between them, have triumphed at two-thirds of the sport's biggest events in the past three years.
Or, in other words, of the 13 grand slam titles since the 2007 Australian Open, only two players other than the Williams and the two Belgians have managed to stop them from adding to their tallies. Such facts, while acknowledging neither Serena, Clijsters or Henin travelled to the UAE, made it apparent from day one who was the favourite to win in Dubai. And Venus was, as we have become accustomed, up to the task.