Serena and Venus Williams were in the championship caliber group for the second year running, but this time, they both emerged, battered and bruised, to contest the final final of the WTA.
(I don't count that other event. I consider it an exhibition of mediocrity. It has no place whatsoever on the tour's calendar.)
I'm writing this before their doubles effort after "suitable rest" because I expect Spain to take that match. But the sisters will take the court and give the fans a semifinal.
And they will not retire.
Serena's left leg is mummified with Kinesio tape and heavy strapping. As though the injury that kept her from defending her title in Miami and interrupted her preparations for Roland Garros has returned. Venus is without mummification (yet), but her back and her knee are not up to snuff.
Neither sister can serve. Neither can run with any confidence. Changing directions looks painful even on the television screen. And yet here they are in the singles final of the season ending championships. The oldest in the field with bodies slowest to recover. Arguably the two best players on the tour -- still -- they've given their naysayers and the propagandists (far too often one and the same) heartburn. I would imagine a couple are choking on their own bile right about now.
Some of the propagandists give the sisters little to no credit, no benefit of the doubt, no matter what they do. The sarcasm that flooded Twitter and the forums after Serena announced her pullout from Fed Cup was quite catty. Any opportunity to pounce, the propagandists take it, and they don't back down.
They're more like the sisters than they care to admit.
Caroline Wozniacki has been held up as the grittiest player at this event for her performance against Vera Zvonareva, an alternate who withdrew after her loss with an ankle injury. And what a performance it was. I'm not going to say Wozniacki wasn't cramping. Clearly, she was. The weather in Doha has been tropical, after all. But I have a sneaking suspicion the "Great Dane" is a better actress than a tennis player.
I found it intriguing that a gracious Serena, after winning her semifinal against the Dane by retirement, said that it was good for the WTA to have a "face" like Wozniacki's on the tour.
But the WTA ought to consider itself blessed in every way to have such gutsy, courageous, determined, talented, and yes -- beautiful -- champions still competing, still filling seats, still bringing the ratings, after all these years, after all they've endured. Career threatening injuries, a surgery here or there, tragic family loss, lawsuits, a bottomless pit of scorn, some of it earned, most of it not.
Kim Clijsters is back. Justine Henin is on her way. People are salivating. Some say they will "save" the tour. I admitted Clijsters' return just might be exactly what the tour needed and she delivered out of the gate.
But the sisters never retired, despite the cacophony of catcalls that they should, never doubted themselves, never stopped believing.
In sport, stars are not created in broadcast booths or weekly newsletters. They are born of accomplishment. No amount of hype can win a prematurely anointed player a championship title. This is not the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is tennis.
Instead of trying to rush some other stars onto the stage to replace these lovely leading ladies, the propagandists ought to be propping up the Williams sisters instead of trying to tear them down without relent.
They're not getting any younger. They won't be around forever. They have served the sport well. And what they've done for people off the court, championing women's rights around the globe, opening schools for children in Africa -- to list but a sliver -- has made the world a better place.
Yes, the WTA is blessed, and it's about time somebody said so.