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Tour report - Serena ends 2013 on high as WTA Champion

Serena Williams at the US Open 2013
by Alexandra Willis
Monday 28 October 2013

Serena Williams brought 2013 to a close as she had done in 2012 - with victory at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. Wimbledon.com reports...

There are few players able to dig themselves out of a tight spot the way Serena Williams can. The world No.1 came back from behind to beat her fellow former French Open champ Li Na 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in Istanbul to successfully defend the WTA Championships title for the first time since Justine Henin did so in 2007. It was a final which featured two over 30-year-olds for the first time in the tournament's history, 32-year-old Serena setting a new record for oldest champion. 

It seemed as though she may have felt her 32 years in the opening exchanges. Weary from a gruelling semi-final against Jelena Jankovic the day before, and reportedly troubled by back pain, Serena was very much floundering in the face of Li's accomplished aggression. The Chinese No.1 was playing in the season-ending final for the first time, and had the sell-out crowd firmly in her corner as she blasted backhand followed by backhand to break for 4-1. Proving what taking hold of the net can do, the set was Li's as Serena missed a passing shot, and one wondered if the season had finally caught up with the top seed. While Li reeled off 10 winners to eight unforced errors, Williams had managed a mere five winners to 10 unforced errors. 

But that winner count was to rise by a further 25 before the end of the match, the French and US Open champion resurrecting herself to save break points in the first game of the second set. It was the impetus she needed, tearing into a 3-0 lead in the second, and then winning nine games in a row to finish Li off without compunction. 

"I don't know how I got through that one," Williams said. "I've just had a really long year, and I'm just really excited, honestly. I really didn't expect to get through this match today. Wow, thank God.

"I can't believe I won. I was so tired. Honestly, did I really win? Because she played so well."

Her fourth season-ending title (having won in 2001, 2009 and 2012), she became the fourth player to notch up four season finales, following Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. It was also her 11th title of the year, the first player since Martina Hingis in 1997 to collect 11 or more titles, and the 57th of her career. 

"I'm just overjoyed, to be honest," Williams added. "It's really awesome. It's such a special moment. To finish the year No.1 in the world and win this title after 40 years of the WTA, it means even more." 

Finishing the year at No.1 for the third time in her career (also 2002 and 2009), there is some recompense for  Li in that she rose to a career-high No.3 in the post-tournament rankings. 

"At the start of the match, maybe I was feeling too excited," Li said. "So after one set and a half I felt like I had no more energy left. I have a little bit of a bad taste, because it's 6-0 in the third set, but I still feel more positive things than negative. At least in the whole match I was using a lot of serve and volleying. I was trying as much as I could to come to the net. So it was an improvement there and I'm still happy overall."

In the women's doubles, Wimbledon champions Su-Wei Hsieh and Peng Shuai won the title, their ninth together, on their tournament debut. 

"We really enjoyed playing together this year," said Peng. "We had a really good time together on the court – we fought sometimes, but it was still a lot of great memories, just the whole experience!"

The two finals brought the curtain down on three years for the WTA in Istanbul, in what has proved a happy time in the history of the WTA Championships, the tournament memorable for its enthuastic, sell-out crowds. 

"Over the last three years, the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships have demonstrated the incredible reach that women's tennis has not only in Turkey, but all over the world.  We are grateful to the Ministry of Sport, the Turkish Tennis Federation and TEB BNP Paribas for their great efforts in making women's tennis more popular and available to tennis fans in Turkey and their fantastic efforts in executing, promoting and organizing this world-class event that has taken our sport to another level," said Stacey Allaster, WTA Chairman and CEO.

The next three-year host will be Singapore, the ninth home of the WTA's flagship event following Boca Raton, FL, USA (1972-73), Los Angeles (1974-76, 2002-05), Oakland, CA-USA (1978), New York City (1977, 1979-2000), Munich (2001), Madrid (2006-07), Doha (2008-10) and Istanbul (2011-13).

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