*Serena Williams, 32, just punctuated a career-best season by successfully defending her title at the 2013 WTA Year End Championships in Istanbul.
It was the first title defense at the tournament since 2007, when Belgian Justine Henin accomplished the feat.
The oldest women to ever do so, Serena won the title, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, convincingly shutting the door on new world no. 3, Li Na of China. Li had made it through all four stages of round robin play during the tournament without dropping a set and it looked as if she were well on her way to win the title for the first time by doing the same … until Serena Williams flipped her notorious “kill” switch.
The world no. 1 and favorite to win the tournament going in had a dominant road in the first few stages of the tournament, defeating Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Petra Kvitova quite convincingly, but prior to her semifinal match against Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic, she says “she hit a wall” in her hotel room. Serena says she was overcome by fatigue that carried over into that match – which a resurgent Jankovic started out capitalizing on – but still found a way to win it. Whether she’s bringing her A game or only her C game, Serena knows how to escape the jaws of defeat in miraculous fashion and she narrowly defeated the annoyed Serbian, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, who after the match questioned Serena’s on-court sportsmanship. “When she’s up, she never does that [serving slow and emotional outbursts], the former world no. 1 told reporters. “You have to practice good sportsmanship…”
No matter how bizarre the win, it earned Williams a spot in the final.
It’s rare that the active WTA title leader and 17-time Grand Slam champion has more than one successive bad day at the office, but her uninspired play seemed to carry over into today’s final against the surging Li (reached a season goal of becoming world no. 3). Serena’s footwork was off and her power was muted compared to her normal on-court performance, leaving the door open for Li to impose her game. The Asian came out ready to play and started the match taking Serena to the woodshed. Li’s first serve percentage was off, but her groundstrokes, net play and mobility were all enough to win her the first set – the first she’s taken off Serena in a while, 6-2. However, during the changeover, Serena braided her now signature windsock ponytail, and began her comeback campaign.
She started the second set with two holds – after being broken twice in the first – and a break of Li’s serve, going up 3-0. Li, however, was no pushover and clawed her way back and leveled it at 3 all. Serena served again and held, going up 4-3, then secured another break to go up 5-3. After a drawn out back and forth battle at set point and deuce, Serena finally served it out at 6-3.
The shift in momentum took the wind out of the persistent Asian’s sails, which set the stage for a fully engaged and dominant performance from the defending champion, Serena.
Long story short, Li Na wasn’t able to win a game in the final set of the match (reminiscent of Serena against Maria Sharapova in Miami this year). Serena was cranking on all gears and Li’s previously effective game plan completely evaporated. It didn’t take very long at all for Serena to serve up her final smoking bagel of 2013, punctuating a 78-4 match season, successfully reclaiming the championship title – her 11th in 2013, and taking the throne as the top dog in active women’s tennis in 2013 and period. The final score line, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Her performance during the final tournament of the year earned Serena record prize money, $12.3 million, for a single season for any female athlete. What a way to close out a year … and the records continue being broken.