Serena closes in on top spot
Doha - Serena Williams needs only one more win to become world number one for the first time in two-and-a-half years after reaching the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open in double quick time on Thursday.
It took the 15-time Grand Slam title winner less than an hour to complete a 6-0, 6-3 win over Urszula Radwanska, the world number 37 from Poland, and to take herself to the brink of another remarkable achievement.
A year ago, after a series of injuries, Williams's career seemed in danger.
Now, after triumphs at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Olympics, and struggling against ankle and back injuries and a cold this week, she is almost back to where many believe she deserves to be - at the top again.
Williams was not allowing her feelings to distract her, however, offering a smokescreen of anti-climactic words to avoid sharing premature pleasure with the crowd.
"Not really", she said, when asked if she were thinking about becoming number one again.
"I am so over it. It's like everyone is thinking about it. I have a really tough opponent. It is what it is."
That tough opponent is Petra Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic, who recovered from 1-3 down in the final set to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 against Nadia Petrova, the 11th seeded Russian who is a previous champion in Doha.
And effective as Williams' performance was, she may need to improve on it against the dangerously flat-hitting Kvitova.
Her serve was below its usually exceptionally high standards, and she appeared to lose concentration at 4-1 in the second set, losing 12 of the next 14 points against an opponent whose weapons could not match her own.
Despite that Williams' movement looked encouragingly smooth, with any discomfort from the strapped-up ankle carefully hidden.
How fit she really is may be revealed on Friday, in a match she must secretly be aching to win to erase her failure to reach the pinnacle at last month's Australian Open.
Earlier Victoria Azarenka, the current number one, made an impressive statement of her right still to be considered the best player when she overwhelmed America's Christina McHale 6-0, 6-0.
"Everything was working for me today," said Azarenka, the defending champion in Doha who also retained her Australian Open crown last month.
"When I stepped on court I felt my game. When I had a couple of difficult games I stayed focussed and took advantage of that, and that was the key.
"Christina has played some excellent matches and had some big wins and so I had to stay focussed. I think I got rid of my frustrations (with the windy weather) yesterday."
Azarenka next faces Sara Errani, the world number seven from Italy, in a half of the draw which also contains Agnieszka Radwanska, the fourth-seeded Pole who was her semi-final opponent last year, and Caroline Wozniacki, the former world number one from Denmark.
Radwanska advanced with a craftily constructed 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) win over Ana Ivanovic, the former French Open champion from Serbia.
Her reward is a quarter-final with Wozniacki, who survived a fraught encounter by 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 against Mona Barthel on an even windier outside court on which the ball sometimes threatened to bounce over the back stop, and where line decisions had Wozniacki's father-coach Piotr screaming at the umpire.
"It was all about somehow surviving out there," said Wozniacki ruefully.
She had a consolation though - a Valentine's Day bouquet of roses from boyfriend Rory McIlroy, the world's number one golfer.
World number three Maria Sharapova eased past Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3 and will face Australian eighth seed Samantha Stosur, who saw off Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 7-5, for a place in the semi-finals.