Tennis ace Wozniacki topples Clijsters from the top

Dubai: Caroline Wozniacki regained the world number one ranking from Kim Clijsters in the strangest surroundings on Friday as a 6-2, 6-4 win over Shahar Peer carried her into the semi-finals of the Dubai Open.

The top-seeded Dane had the rare experience of playing on an outside court, under the lee of a large building, next to a cosy row of trees, and with small spectator terraces containing a few hundred people.

It was deemed the best way to keep her opponent safe.

Peer, who last year became the first Israeli woman ever to compete in the United Arab Emirates, still requires 24-hour protection, and lives, changes and prepares in areas separate from other players.

“It certainly felt different from playing in the stadium. But I just did what I had to do, and tomorrow I will be back there again,” said Wozniacki, who will face a reviving Jelena Jankovic, the former world number one.

She might have won more easily. Peer did not find her best ground stroking rhythm until she was a set and 0-4 down, but then got back to within a point of 5-5 before Wozniacki’s tenacious rallying halted an ominous-looking revival.

It means that Clijsters will have held the top spot for only one week after winning last month’s Australian Open and reaching the final of last week’s Paris Open, and Wozniacki will cling to the pinnacle for at least another month - till after the 12-day Indian Wells tournament starting on March 23.

But the table topper seemed far from overjoyed. “I gave Kim one week, so I will probably have it for a few weeks now,” Wozniacki said.

“Of course it’s nice and I’ll go out to dinner with one of my best friends, but my focus is not really upon becoming number one. It’s more about concentrating on trying to win the tournament.”

Wozniacki did indeed focus well. She got her tactics right, made a crucial push when Peer was coming back dangerously, and gained revenge for her loss to the inspired Israeli here last year.

Wozniacki was at 15-40 in that important last game before saving it. She found extra pace with a backhand cross court drive which forced Peer to overhit, then struck a steadier backhand cross court which Peer returned into the net, followed it by launching a winning first serve, and closed out the match with a good net attack.

Throughout much of the match Wozniacki directed drives down the middle of the court, denying Peer angles, and nullifying one of her great strengths - nimble lateral movement and excellent counter-hitting on the run.

Afterwards there were no on-court TV interviews -- another safety precaution -- and it was only when Peer was back in the haven of her on-site quarters that she revealed her thoughts and emotions.

“I don’t know why I started like that,” she said. “I finished better than I started, but I made too many mistakes.”

Was she relieved that the security ordeal was over? “I would prefer to be relieved in two days time,” Peer responded.

Wozniacki’s next opponent, Jankovic, came through after a second fine fightback in two days. The Serb was 3-5 down in the final set before beating Kaia Kinepi Thursday and now recovered from 1-4 in the final set to beat Samantha Stosur, the fourth seeded Australian, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7/4).

It was the first time in five difficult months, blighted by injuries and an eye problem, that Jankovic had won more than one match in a tournament.

“I was looking for this kind of new beginning,” she said. “I haven’t played many matches and I needed to get myself on track again and show that I’m here. I’ve done that. I’m back.”

Meanwhile Svetlana Kuznetsova, the former French and US Open champion from Russia, made sure of regaining a top 20 place after reaching her first semi-final for six months with a 7-6 (9/7) 6-2 win over the eighth-seeded Pole, Agnieszka Radwanska.

Kuznetsova, who started the week unwell with a virus, will now play the other semi-final against Flavia Pennetta, the world number 18 from Italy, looking significantly healthier.

Bureau Report

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