October 26, 2014

The Perfect Ending

Serena Williams may not have started the year the way we expected her to, but she sure finished it off strong -- even when, for a few separate moments in Singapore, her prospects for a fifth WTA Championship were a little bit in doubt.

Serena, surprisingly, did not come out on top of her round robin group -- though she would open against Ana Ivanovic, the only woman in the field to have beaten her this year, she also got paired with two year-end finals first-timers, the season's Cinderella Genie Bouchard and Simona Halep, one of the most consistent performers at the Majors all year long. But despite a relatively quiet fall, the young Romanian was not intimidated in her Singapore debut -- against Williams on Wednesday, she denied nine break opportunities and dropped just two games, handing the top seed her worst loss since a 2007 retirement against Patty Schnyder. She might have even been stopped in the early rounds, but Ivanovic needed three sets to defeat Halep in their last Red Group match, allowing just enough room for Serena to sneak in.

Meanwhile in the White Group, U.S. Open surprise finalist followed up on her late-season surge -- the last player to qualify for Singapore, she was the only one in the entire field to win all her round robins, only dropping a set to Maria Sharapova in her first match. None of the other ladies in the section could manage more than one win in the early rounds -- Agnieszka Radwanska scored a surprisingly one-sided win over Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the Czech rebounded nicely to notch her first victory over Sharapova since 2011, and the French Open titleist barely survived a three-hour slugfest with Radwanska. Ultimately, with one less set lost in the round robins, it was Aga who squeaked her way into the semifinals along with the recently dominant Dane.

Wozniacki's strength carried through on Saturday too -- while Halep dismissed Radwanska in barely an hour, Caro came within a few points of finally defeating Serena again. Despite an on-paper drubbing in the U.S. Open final, she's been steadily gaining ground on the world #1, taking sets off her in Montreal and Cincinnati. This weekend Wozniacki actually won more points in the pair's two-plus hour match, taking the first set and serving for the match in the third before finally, unfortunately, folding at six-all in the tiebreak.

So finally after a long week of top-quality play among the very best players on the WTA Tour, Serena Williams and Simona Halep had set up a rematch of their round robin match just four days ago. But we were certainly not in for an exact repeat -- as should be expected after a Williams loss, the world #1 found a way to raise her game and get revenge. Though she struggled to hold serve early and even got down a break at 1-2, she quickly rebounded and unapologetically rolled off eight straight games to finish off the match and claim her record-tying fifth year-end championship.

Of course Serena is almost always the favorite at any tournament she enters, but with so many fumbles and stumbles along the way this year, today's outcome was far from certain. But by finishing off the year so strong she certainly served notice that she's not quite ready to pass the reins off to the next generation of superstars. And you can bet she's going to take this momentum with her and start off next season with a bang.

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