January seems like a very long time ago. Way back then, Serena Williams had not hit a tennis ball in anger or otherwise since losing the 2011 US Open final to Sam Stosur the previous September, her now legendary strut, glare and rant towards umpire Eva Asderaki a YouTube sensation, and the fact she had reached the final in only her fourth event back from life-threatening circumstances forgotten by comparison.
Rested and refreshed, she pitched up in Australia looking calm, confident and motivated. But as always with Serena, there could have been a Grand Slam title in those legs, or an early exit. You just never knew.
But to end the year with two Grand Slam singles titles, a Grand Slam doubles title, two Olympic gold medals and the WTA Championships title, a 40-winner bamboozlement of Maria Sharapova earning her the trophy? Possibly even Serena didn't expect that.
So it was that Serena's 2012 season, in which she has lost just one match since tumbling out of the first round at Roland Garros, wrapped itself up in 89 minutes, her eighth win in a row against the Russian, in the clamarous surroundings of the 16,410-strong Sinam Erdem Dome in Istanbul.
"The Turkish fans here are so amazing, so nice and so supportive - I've never seen so many signs with my name on them. I can't even explain how that makes me feel."
There are quite a few numbers. Williams is the sixth female player to win the WTA Championships three times (following the achievements of Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Kim Clijsters). At the age of 31, she is the oldest player to win the season-ender. She is the first player to win seven or more titles in a season since Justine Henin won 10 in 2007. With 58 wins to four losses, her .935 win percentage is the second best for a WTA-er since 1990 (Henin's 63-4 in 2007 was better).
But it seems Serena's not convinced it matches her season of 2002, when she collected three Grand Slam singles titles before going on to claim a fourth in a row at the Australian Open in 2003.
"I would say it's pretty much the best season of my career, a little bit of a slow start though, so I have to give it to 2002," she said. "But there's always 2013," she added.
Granted, although she didn't drop a set throughout the week in Istanbul, there were some nail-chewing moments for the 15-time Grand Slam champion, especially in the early stages of her second round robin match against Li Na. But perhaps that is Serena's new style - clawing back and clinging on, much as she did to surmount a hefty deficit in the final set of the US Open final and emerge triumphant over Victoria Azarenka.
"I feel great right now. This was exactly my dream and I'm so happy I was able to achieve it," Williams said.
For Sharapova, who ends the year as world No.2, it has also been one of her better years, the cherry completing the career Grand Slam with her French Open victory.
"I've got to keep moving forward," Sharapova said. "I'm proud of my year. I'm proud of my consistency. I'm proud I'm moving in the right direction in terms of improving my game and where I see it. I've accomplished a lot of things this year I really wanted, and wanted to get back in my career. A lot of great memories."
She revealed, as so many have done, that when Serena is serving as well as she can, there is little living with her.
"She had another great serving day against me - I don't think I even had a break point," Sharapova said. "Maybe it was partly me not doing enough on the returns and partly she was serving well - a few moments when it was 30-all or 15-all, I didn't get a good return in. But that's one of the reasons she's such a great champion and has had a tremendous amount of success in her career.
And so, to the inevitable question - what's next for Serena? More, she says. But as always, we just don't know.
While the WTA season has largely drawn to a close, save for the Tournament of Champions and the Fed Cup final, the ATP-ers still have two weeks to go, with Paris Bercy taking place this week before the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in London next week. But last week was all about Basel, Roger Federer's home event. So it was with some surprise that five-time champion Federer saw the title snatched off him by Juan Martin Del Potro.
Del Potro won his second straight title with a 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) win, his first over Federer since London 2009 and the third of his career in their 16 meetings.
"It was an unbelievable final, the match was really close," said Del Potro. "After six losses, it was a big win for me. I was fighting all the time. I got lucky in the end, but I felt that I played a really good match."
"I thought overall I played pretty good," said Federer. "He got off to a bit of a better start, but it was close. He served well at the beginning, which made him the better player in the first set. The second set was close. He didn’t play a very good tie-break and then I had my chances early on in the third. I couldn’t break, despite doing the right things, but then I didn’t play a good tie-break myself."
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all