DOHA, Qatar - Everything seemed lined up for Serena Williams and the No.1 ranking on Friday at the Qatar Total Open - she had won 58 of her last 61 matches and she just needed one more win to regain the top spot, and she had beaten Petra Kvitova in straight sets all three times they had played.
Few people would have predicted the marathon that was about to take place.
The No.7-seeded Kvitova lifted her game from the very start of the match, breaking serve early on and never even facing a break point in any of her five service games to take the first set, 6-3. She was clearly on her game - she had double the winners to unforced errors, 14 to 7, while Williams went somewhat awry with the opposite, 7 to 14, and was faced with the task of coming from a set down.
But come from a set down she did. The No.2-seeded Williams went right to work, totally flipping her own script from there - she hit triple the winners to unforced in the second set, 12 to 4 - and she even brought out one of her trademark comebacks in the third set, battling back from a 4-1 deficit to complete an historic 36 63 75 victory. She finished the epic off with her 14th ace of the match.
Straight after the victory, Williams was understandably elated in her on-court interview.
"I don't know how I did it - I really don't know," Williams said. "I just hung in there and she was playing so well. Every time I looked around she was hitting a winner. I just tried to stay in there."
Williams was also asked about the very vocal fans, who seemed to cheer her through at every twist and turn of the match. "You guys are amazing," she replied. "The crowd was so amazing. When I was down I could hear people cheering for me, and I don't get that all the time, so it was really nice."
And then, at the mention of regaining the No.1 ranking on Monday, that's when the walls came down - the year-long battle with injury and illness, all the hard work, all the emotions - it all came out.
"I'm so sensitive nowadays, I'm always crying!" Williams said as she fought back tears. "I never thought I would be here again. I've just been through so much and never thought I'd be here again.
"Thank you Jehovah for giving me another chance."
At 31 years, 4 months and 24 days, Williams will be the oldest woman to hold the World No.1 ranking since the introduction of computer rankings in 1975. The previous oldest was Chris Evert, who was 30 years, 11 months and 3 days when she last held No.1 the week ending Sunday, November 24, 1985.
Williams will begin her 124th non-consecutive week as the No.1 player in the world on Monday.