DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Serena Williams spent most of the past week downplaying the prospect of returning to the top of the rankings. Then it happened and she couldn’t hold back the tears.
The 15-time Grand Slam winner will replace top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in next week’s rankings after coming from a set down to beat former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open.
It marks the end of an emotional two-and-half year journey for Williams marked by a string of injuries and doubts about whether she could dominate the women’s game again. After clinching the victory with an ace, Williams held up one finger and wiped away tears as she addressed the cheering crowd.
“I never thought I would be here again,” she said. “Oh, my gosh, I’ve been through so much. I never thought I would be here.”
The 31-year-old Williams is the oldest player to attain the top spot, breaking the mark previously held by Chris Evert, who was No. 1 in 1985 just shy of her 31st birthday.
Regaining the top spot was not a priority two years ago for Williams. Simply returning to the court was a challenge.
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 clots in her lungs and needed to inject herself with a blood thinner. Those shots led to a pool of blood gathering under her stomach’s skin, requiring another hospital procedure.
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.
“There were often times that I never thought I’d play again. Then I thought I’d never be able to win tournaments or Grand Slams,” Williams said. “No. 1 was so far off. It was always a dream, but I was No. 1 when tragedy struck, and it was just an awful thing to happen. So I’m happy that I’m back.”