Safina pulls out of Doha Masters, leaving Serena Williams on top

There will be no showdown for the number one spot in the women's ranking in Doha after Dinara Safina of Russia withdrew from the WTA Championships on Wednesday with a back injury, leaving US rival Serena Williams on top.


REUTERS - The anticipated duel in the desert for the world number one spot fell flat at the WTA Championships on Wednesday when Dinara Safina's withdrawal because of a back injury gifted the prize to American Serena Williams. 

The elite year-ending tournament featuring the top eight women in the world was billed as a showdown with Safina arriving in the desert state just ahead on ranking points.

Serena opened her round-robin matches in Maroon Group with victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova on Tuesday, taking her back in front of Safina who lasted just two games on Wednesday against Jelena Jankovic before tearfully throwing in the towel.

"My body just gave up," the 23-year-old Safina told reporters after her hopes of becoming the first Russian to finish a year as world number one ended.

"I did everything possible to play here. I went yesterday to put injections, cortisone, but I could not handle this pain any more."

It was a sad end to the season for Safina, who spent 25 weeks at the top of the rankings but whose lack of grand slam titles, compared to the 11 of Williams, left many questioning her suitability for the No.1 spot.

"I think I should have taken a break after the U.S. Open but I was chasing this number one, so I was fighting with my body. God knows? Maybe I had to stop after the U.S. Open."

The withdrawal of Safina, who will be replaced by compatriot Vera Zvonareva in White Group, has left a void in the tournament that has already been struggling to attract fans to the Khalifa Tennis Centre on the shores of the Persian Gulf.

Serena's late-night match against sister and defending champion Venus suddenly became irrelevant other than for the small matter of family pride, although defeat for Venus would leave her facing virtual certain elimination. 

Close friends

Before Safina's bombshell, Championship debutants and close friends Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka pushed each other to the limit in a three-hour baseline battle which Dane Wozniacki edged 1-6 6-4 7-5.

The two big movers up the rankings this year stood toe to toe in oppressive heat before Azarenka went into meltdown late in the third set after squandering a match point.

"After the first set I thought I was gonna be in the locker room in no time," Wozniacki, at 19 the youngest player in the draw, told reporters. "But I kept fighting."

Indeed, the surprise U.S. Open finalist was given the runaround in the first set, but gradually found her range, breaking twice in an energy-sapping second despite losing a fifth game at 2-2 that lasted more than 20 minutes.

After a 10-minute heat break enforced because of temperatures still hovering in the low 30s Celsius despite darkness having long fallen over the Qatari capital, Azarenka again took command in the decider, moving into a 5-3 lead.

However, Wozniacki, who said she stuffed ice into her armpits during the break, hit back and held off a matchpoint when the increasingly irritated Azarenka made a rare unforced error on her forehand.

The irrepressible Wozniacki struck a mortal blow in the 11th game when she broke serve again, prompting world number six Azarenka to shatter her racket frame on the purple cement -- a show of rage that earned her a penalty point.

The Dane seized her chance with relish, serving out for victory that puts her level on one win with Azarenka who marked her debut on Tuesday by beating Jankovic.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app