serena.williams.5Serena Williams restarts her 2015 campaign after her Australian Open triumph last month by seeking to end a Middle East drought by succeeding big sister Venus as champion.

She does so having just made three pieces of tennis history. The 33-year-old’s success in Melbourne made her the oldest open era winner of that title, yet she arrives at the Dubai Open starting Sunday without having won the title in four attempts.

Williams’ tenacious Australian exploits also carried her total of Grand Slam titles to 19, overtaking both Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and moving her to within three of the open era record of Steffi Graf. Yet the best the now-legendary American has managed in this region is a final in nearby Doha.

Next week offers a decent chance of putting that right, especially as Williams proved last month that she has found a way of coping even when she isn’t feeling too good.

“It was so long (five years) since I’d even been in a final in Melbourne that I was like, ‘Oh let me just try’,” Williams explained. “My theory now is to relax and play the match as best as I can. I don’t have to win any more.”

Describing how she acquired this pressure-free attitude, she said: “it started last year when I was so hyped on trying to get to 18 Grand Slam titles.

“It’s great to have good intensity, and at the same time to keep calm and not get over worked up. That’s what I’ve been working on.”

If Williams is able to maintain this difficult synthesis here she should have a better chance of this elevated Premier 5 tournament, whose draw size has been doubled to 64 players, which contains nine of the world’s top ten, and which offers $2.5 million prize money.    

Her third piece of recent history-making came last week when she agreed to return to Indian Wells next month, for the first time since she and Venus decided to boycott the tournament 14 years ago after the now-notorious hostility of spectators.

Although Venus apparently does not plan to join Serena on an emotional return to southern California she will be accompanying her here in Dubai where she is used to taking more of the limelight than little sister.

Venus returns as titleholder, having last year avenged Serena’s semi-final loss to Alize Cornet of France, and in the process becoming both the first wild card and the first unseeded player to win the title.

Venus also returns with her highest world ranking in four years – it has risen to 11 after defeating former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska en route to the last eight in Australia – and she has fresh hopes of regaining a place in the top ten despite having had her chances written off by some people.  

The 34-year-old former winner of seven Grand Slam titles nevertheless still lives with chronic health problems which can cause unexpected fluctuations in form. “Sometimes in life you just have to learn to deal with the cards you been dealt,” Venus says. “It’s been an adjustment, getting used to how I need to live now.”

She left Australia rather ominously commenting: “It feels like a long season already, with so many matches in a row.” In fact Venus has played only ten matches this year, after winning the Auckland title by beating Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

However she will probably have to defend the Dubai title unseeded, in which case she could meet the former world number one from Denmark at an early stage this time – or indeed any of the main contenders in a superb field.

It also contains the Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the Wimbedon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, the former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, the French Open finalist Simona Halep, and the 2012 Dubai champion Agnieszka Radwanska.

Possible seeds:

1, Serena Williams (USA); 2, Simona Halep (ROM); 3, Petra Kvitova (CZE); 4, Caroline Wozniacki (DEN); 5, Ana Ivanovic (SRB); 6, Eugenie Bouchard (CAN); 7, Agnieszka Radwanska (POL); 8, Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) – Agence France-Presse

- Advertisement -