Venus Williams can look forward realistically to a first Australian Open triumph in January after ending the year on a tremendous high.
Venus back in orbit
DOHA // Venus Williams can look forward realistically to a first Australian Open triumph in January after ending the year on a tremendous high by beating five opponents from the world's top eight to capture the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships in Qatar.
The elder of the two Williams sisters was one of the last to qualify for the elite end-of-year showpiece but the world No 7 made light of her low ranking to overcome the top three - Jelena Jakovic, Dinara Safina and her younger sister Serena - to earn a crack at the bumper $1.3million (Dh6m) first prize. Despite a lapse of concentration in the first set of her final against Vera Zvonareva, the last of her five opponents, Venus always looked in command on the concluding night and travelled home from the Middle East in high spirits.
"It's a fantastic feeling to end the season this way," said the five-time Wimbledon champion. The dual winner of the US Open now has 39 career titles and ends 2008 in sixth place on the world table. "I've never even had the opportunity to play this tournament, so, it's really awesome to have played here and played well. I am pretty pleased." She agreed that finishing a demanding programme boosted her confidence ahead of the re-opening of grand slam business in Melbourne in two months' time.
With the season coming to a close, Serena, the US Open champion, and Ana Ivanovic, the French Open champion, both wilted away and withdrew before fulfilling their commitments here. Venus has not enjoyed the best of times in Australia, having reached only one final in nine visits, but she has proved this year that she can still rise to the occasion when she wants to. On form, she and Serena are the best in the world, despite what the rankings say, and it will be a question of how motivated they are after what all the top women regard as a much-needed winter break.
"Obviously, I have high and wonderful hopes for next year," added Venus. "At the appropriate time I will work hard for next year, but for now, I haven't given it a ton of thought." Having won the Tour championships at last, she acknowledged that she now needed an Australian Open and a more unlikely triumph at Roland Garros to complete a full set of major honours. "I've come so close to winning all of the grand slams in previous years so I've always put myself in the position to win," she said.
"And I know how to win. Now I take these experiences of playing against the best into next year." Zvonareva will also take the confidence into next season after her surprise passage to the Doha final. "It's the first time I've played top 10 players - five matches in a row - and I was able to come up with four wins, so it has been a good week for me," said the Russian. "I think there are many things for me to work on, and I'm going to try and improve those things for next year."