• Li Na and Jelena Jankovic were confused that a fatigued Serena Williams got stronger as her matches progressed in the semifinals and final. “So this is the reason why she lives in Los Angeles, right?” Li joked, seemingly referring to Hollywood’s acting population. “No, I mean, I don’t know ‑‑ I don’t know what happened with her, but when she started the match, she’s already feeling like [she's going to] die. But in the final set, she can serve 180 [kmh, or 112 mph], 190 [kmh, or 118 mph]. I have no idea about this.”
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ISTANBUL — Serena Williams rallied past Li Na 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 to win the WTA Championships on Sunday and complete a dominant season.
In winning her career-high 11th title of 2013 and fourth WTA Championships, a fatigued Williams fought through a slow start and swept the final nine games before 16,457, the largest single-session crowd here. Williams finished the season 78-4 (.951), the WTA’s highest single-season winning percentage since Steffi Graf went 75-2 (.974) in 1989. She also set the women’s single-season record with $12.4 million in earnings, the third most in tennis history. Only three other players – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — have made more than $10 million in a season.
“It was an awesome year of tennis,” Williams said. “I’m really happy that I was able to finish it off.”
ISTANBUL — Sunday’s final of the WTA Championships will feature the two oldest players in the field, as Serena Williams battled through fatigue to defeat Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 to face Li Na, who will become the highest-ranked Asian player in tennis history at No. 3 after defeating Petra Kvitova 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals.
When Li partnered with coach Carlos Rodriguez last fall, their goal was either to win another Slam or get Li to that third ranking in the world. Thanks to an undefeated record through group play this week and her win over Kvitova, Li will leapfrog Maria Sharapova on Monday to finish the season at a career-high No. 3, a credit to her year-long consistency in which she’s made the quarterfinals or better at every non-clay tournament this season.
Now comes the task of beating Serena, who confessed after her three-set win over Jankovic that she’s hit a wall and her gas tank is empty. While her tournament has been fairly straight-forward — she was the only player going into the semifinals who had not played a three-set match — she came into the tournament having played more matches this season than ever. Saturday night’s win moved her year-long tally to 77-4. Prior to this year, she had never played more than 62 matches in any season.
ISTANBUL — Li Na beat an injured Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-1 on Friday to reach the semifinals of the WTA Championships for the first time.
Li’s victory, her third without a loss in round-robin play, means that Jelena Jankovic will move into Saturday’s semifinals as the second qualifier from the White Group. Li will face Petra Kvitova, who earned her spot with a 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 win over Angelique Kerber. Jankovic will meet Serena Williams, who didn’t lose a set in three round-robin matches.
Most of the discussion during and after Li’s win centered on Azarenka’s decision to play through a back injury that left her in tears and unable to serve or run for balls. Serving at 2-3, 0-30, she let out a scream upon landing after a serve. Azarenka said she felt her back lock up.
“I don’t know what really happened,” she said. “Just bad movement and really just everything moved, big spasm. No flexibility.”
ISTANBUL — When Serena Williams is serving at her best, no one stands a chance. Petra Kvitova experienced that the hard way today, when Williams put on a serving masterclass to blast past Kvitova 6-2, 6-3 to remain undefeated in round robin play and become the first woman to advance to the semifinals at the WTA Championships.
Behind 11 aces and 27 winners to just 13 unforced errors, Williams took all the air out of the highly-anticipated match-up between two of the biggest hitters in the women’s game, who also happen to be the last two winners of the WTA Championships.
Since the U.S. Open, Kvitova has lost just one match, and said she was relishing the opportunity to pit her game against the best player in the world. Aside from a few too many forehand errors, the 23-year old Czech didn’t play a bad match, hitting 17 winners to 19 unforced errors, a stable count given her low-margin game. But it seemed every time she earned a break point — she earned four for the match — Williams responded with an unreturnable serve.
ISTANBUL — Li Na beat Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 at the WTA Championships on Thursday to remain undefeated in the White Group and boost her chances of making the semifinals.
Dictating play for much of the match, Li battled through her own frustration to overcome Jankovic’s scrambling defense and improve to 2-0 in round-robin play. Though she served at 70 percent, Li was broken five times due to a particularly ineffective second serve.
In the face of Jankovic’s aggressive return, Li converted just 30 percent of her second-serve points (7 of 23) and had to rely on her own return game to do damage. Li earned 21 break points and converted six, and she got 82 percent of her returns in play. Li converted 19 of 23 net points, but confessed it was a mental struggle to get herself to the net when the match got tight.
“If I try to always stay on the baseline, maybe I need [to run more] today,” Li said. “[A] couple [of] points I try to come to the net. I was like, OK, continue. But when the nervous time [came], I was, like, [play it safe], stay [on the] baseline.”
ISTANBUL — Jelena Jankovic defeated Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3 on Wednesday in round-robin play at the WTA Championships. Azarenka admitted afteward that she’s mentally exhausted after trying to maintain a consistent level over the last two years.
“I think it’s pretty obvious,” a visibly drained Azarenka said when asked about any mental fatigue.
There is little at stake for Azarenka this week. She has no chance of overtaking Serena Williams for the No. 1 ranking, and her No. 2 ranking is secure regardless of what any other player does.
“It’s just mentally tough right now,” she said. “Just tough to get things started a little bit.”
ISTANBUL — Of the eight women who qualified for the WTA Championships, no one seemed more pleased to be in Istanbul than Jelena Jankovic. After becoming the 18th player to hold the No. 1 ranking in 2008 and staying among the top 10, the 28-year-old Serb hit a slump falling out of the top 10 in 2011 and then struggling to remain in the top 30 in 2012.
Her slump appeared to continue at the start of 2013, However, Jankovic appointed her brother Marco as her full-time coach, which helped to turn her season around. She returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2011 and is back to compete at her fifth WTA Championships.
“He told me from the beginning that his goal is to bring me back to top 10 and to bring me back to the top,” Jankovic said during her pre-tournament press conference. “So with the hard work, I got new motivation, and [it] gives me great satisfaction that I was able to make it here and that all that hard work has paid off.”
ISTANBUL — The WTA’s stars put their best faces forward Sunday evening at the WTA Championships draw ceremony in Istanbul. After the women were placed into their respective groups (you can read a full preview here), the women headed to the high-energy player party to enjoy a night of music performed by a local band that covered everything from Adele to Turkish pop songs.
The highlight of the night was Serena Williams, who gamely took the stage and did her best to fake her way through a rendition of Oh, Istanbul.
Luckily, the players had a full day to recover and prepare for the tournament’s start on Tuesday.
Here are more behind-the-scenes photos and a video:
ISTANBUL — Some highlights from the WTA’s All-Access Hour with the eight players competing at this week’s WTA Championships:
• Serena Williams isn’t sure she can break Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, but she’s going to try.
“That would be amazing. I’m less than 10 away (she has 17), so that’s a start, but even if I was at 23 Grand Slams, it would be very hard, you know, with so many wonderful players, especially now. There are so many great new players coming up. Everyone is so young, everyone is so hungry, everyone wants to be the next No. 1. So, you know, it’s going to be even tough for me to get to 18. Obviously that’s my goal, but I take it one match at a time.”