DOHA, Qatar — An emotional Serena Williams returned to the top of women’s tennis, overcoming a series of potentially career-ending injuries since 2010 to become the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking.
The 31-year-old Williams rallied from 4-1 down in the third to beat former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open on Friday. She needed to reach the semifinals to replace Victoria Azarenka at No. 1 when the rankings come out next week.
Williams held up one finger after clinching the match with an ace and wiped away the tears as she addressed the cheering crowd.
“I never thought I would be here again,” Williams said. “Oh my gosh, I’ve been through so much. I never thought I would be here.”
Chris Evert held the top ranking in 1985 just shy of her 31st birthday.
It has been a long journey back to the top for Williams.
Shortly after winning Wimbledon in 2010, she cut her feet on broken glass while on her way out of a restaurant in Germany. That led to two operations on her right foot. Later, she had blood clots in her lungs and needed to inject herself with a blood thinner. She needed to go to the hospital when those shots led to a pool of blood under her skin.
Williams lost the top spot to Caroline Wozniacki in 2010 and tumbled down the rankings. But she made a comeback worthy of a No. 1 in 2012, winning Wimbledon, the Olympic gold medal, the U.S. Open and the season-ending WTA championships. She lost only one match in 2012 after her first-round exit at the French Open.
FEDERER UPSET: In Rotterdam, Netherlands, Julien Benneteau upset an out of sorts Roger Federer 6-3, 7-5 on Friday to reach the semifinals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament.
Federer, the defending champion struggled with his serve and the timing of his ground shots throughout the match and Benneteau capitalized, punishing Federer on his second serves, to record his second victory over the Swiss star.
“It is one of the biggest wins, for sure,” the 39-ranked Benneteau said. “To play against Roger, Friday night, full house, it’s a dream and I played like in a dream.”
The defeat ended top-seeded Federer’s quest to become the first man to win the Rotterdam tournament three times.
It also gave Benneteau a measure of revenge for last year’s Wimbledon, when he blew a two-set lead to lose to Federer, and the London Olympics, where Federer beat him 6-2, 6-2.
Benneteau set the tone by breaking Federer in the match’s first game, pouncing on a backhand that hit the net to power a backhand pass down the line for the game.
He looked to have stumbled in the 4th game when he served two double faults to allow Federer to break back, but Benneteau broke again in the 7th and 9th games to take the set.
He raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set before Federer again reeled off three consecutive games. Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, looked like he was on his way back when he forced three break points at 5-5, but Benneteau grittily held service.
Summing up his sloppy play on the night, Federer served his fourth double fault to give Benneteau match point and the Frenchman immediately took it to win.
Earlier, Grigor Dimitrov rallied to overcome Marcos Baghdatis 6-7 (4), 7-6 (0), 6-3 to advance to the semifinals, where he will meet 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4.