Venus Williams captured her third trophy in Dubai and first title in 16 months by calmly dispatching Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-0 at the Aviation Club on Saturday.
The 33-year-old American has taken her winning streak in Dubai to 15, having won the title in 2009 and 2010 and having missed the events in between.
Cornet, who took out the younger Williams sister, Serena, in the semi-finals the night before, was bidding to win her fourth career title and first since Strasbourg last season, but Venus proved too strong for the 24-year-old to handle.
It was Cornet who drew first blood, getting her hands on a break point in the third game on a double fault from Venus. The American saved it with a thunderous 187km/hr service winner but a couple of forehand errors from Williams, gave Cornet another break point and the break for a 2-1 lead.
But Venus broke back immediately, first creating a chance with a brilliant down the line backhand passing shot before benefitting from a netted backhand error from Cornet to level.
It was the start of a four-game run for Venus, who forced Cornet to save two set points before the Frenchwoman held for 3-5.
Venus took the set the following game though, hitting another monster down the line backhand which left Cornet scrambling. Venus raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set, breaking twice despite an incredible Rafael Nadal-like curling forehand passing shot from Cornet to save one of the break points.
The seven-time major champion had to save two break points in the fourth game, but held on and broke again for a 5-0 lead. Venus had to fight off two break points when serving for the title, but sealed the championship on her second match point when Cornet sent a forehand wide.
It was Venus’ 647th career victory, the most won by any of the active WTA players, and it was her first Premier title since winning Dubai in 2010.
Venus said she didn’t know the secret behind her continued success in Dubai. “I don’t know, I need to play here every year,” joked Venus on court after her win.
“If I can figure out why I play well here I can make it happen in other tournaments. I tried to put it all together, right until the last game. Alize never gives up so I had to give it my all.”
Defending champion Novak Djokovic and five-time winner Roger Federer were drawn to clash in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships when the draw was made on Saturday.
The pair have claimed the title an incredible nine times in the last 11 years, with Federer lifting the trophy for three consecutive years between 2003 and 2005, and Djokovic doing the same between 2009 and 2011.
In the past two years they have shared the title, with Federer beating Andy Murray in 2012 and Djokovic overcoming Tomas Berdych in 2013.
“We have two of the greatest men who have ever played the game once again competing here at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free.
“Their semi-final will be one to savour, but the field here is so strong that neither are guaranteed their place in the final four.
"Djokovic could well meet Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round, a player who produced one of the biggest upsets at the recent Australian Open when he beat our number two seed, Juan Martin del Potro, and Federer could meet the wily Radek Stepanek, who has played a pivotal role in the Czech Republic winning the Davis Cup for the past two years.”
Second seed Del Potro opens his bid for the title against popular wild card Somdev Devvarman, and he could meet 2013 runner-up and recent Rotterdam winner and Australian Open semi-finalist Berdych in the semi-finals.
Berdych faces a qualifier in the first round. Fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on Victor Hanescu and then could face veteran Nikolay Davydenko in the second round, sixth seed and two-time former finalist Mikhail Youzhny plays Michal Przysiezny, and seventh seed Philipp Kohlschreiber and eighth seed Dmitry Tursunov both play a qualifier.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships takes place between 24th February and 1st March.
Venus Williams has been talking all week about how her fight back from illness to try and compete at the top level has been an educational experience for her. And the fact is, it has been educational for all those watching her and listening to her too.
Like her sister Serena pointed out, Venus’ battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome is an ongoing struggle and can’t be compared to other players’ injuries that are dealt with in a certain period of time.
Venus is not just teaching us how to strike back when we’re down but also how to deal with it gracefully. It has been a tumultuous few years for Venus since she was diagnosed with the energy-sapping auto-immune disease and it looks like she’s starting to deal with it mentally in the right way.
She’s going to play her second final of the season today, and unlike Auckland – which is an International- level WTA event – Dubai is a Premier tournament with a higher quality field.
Venus’ path to the Dubai final saw her take out players ranked 33, 12, 22, and 11 and if shewins today, she can return to the top-30 – which means she can be seeded in her next grand slam if she manages to keep it up.
Venus is yet to drop a set this week at the Aviation Club and you can’t help but notice how there has been a sense of calmness to her during her matches.
She has been choosing when to attack and when to take it easy and we are yet to see her panic at any moment here. She’s also showing that at 33, she can still be extremely powerful, firing bullets from both sides of the court and serving better thanmany top players on tour.
Venus has explained how her illness has given her perspective and it seems it’s that perspective that has been pushing her.
She’s also another example of how age is becoming more of an asset on tour, and how maturity trumps youth in today’s game.
While Venus may not be able to sustain a top level throughout an entire season, she has proven this week that she can deliver high-quality matches against higher-ranked opponents in back-to-back matches.
The way both her and Serena have attracted audiences this week is also testament to how important both sisters are to the game and one can’t help but wonder how different the tournament would have been had they not received wildcards from the organisers.
Their doubles match earlier in the week witnessed a full house on Court 1 and the fact remains that the Williams sisters are still the biggest draw in women’s tennis.
Here’s hoping Venus’ rejuvenation continues and can live to see an all-Williams clash in Dubai in the near future.