During the first set of today's WTA Championships final in Istanbul, Li Na did to defending champion Serena Williams what Williams often does to her opponents--played her way seamlessly through tough rallies and then brought down the blade, often with a powerful forehand blow. Li served and volleyed. She worked her way to the net and put balls away. The Chinese star used controlled aggression to wear down an already very tired Williams, and she took the first set 6-2.
Li didn't let up for the first half of the second set. But her task became tougher, as Williams--who braided her hair between sets--suddenly began to look like herself. Remember, a physically and mentally exhausted Serena Williams is still--Serena Williams. And a quick twist of her thick hair brought about at least a metaphorical (I'm not excluding the possibility of the existence of magical powers) twist in her energy level. And that enabled her to sharpen her focus.
Williams won the second set 6-3. And then, not so slowly, began Li's familiar descent into Na Na Land. It should have been a cracker of a third set, but instead--suddenly bereft of confidence--Li unraveled. She could hardly get a decent first serve going, and her second serve was almost nonexistent. By this time, the aggression was clearly being carried out on the other side of the net, and the Williams serve was on fire. Williams took the final set 6-0, even after being down 0-40 when she served for the championship.
This was Williams' 11th title of the year, her 18th straight match win, and her 78th match win of 2013. The world number 1 has now won the WTA Championships four times, matching the accomplishments of Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.
Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai won the doubles championship, defeating Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-4, 7-5. Hsieh and Peng are from Chinese Taipei and China, respectively. They are long-time friends, and they won the 2013 Wimbledon championship.
The trophy ceremony also served as a ceremony of transfer, since the Championships will move from Istanbul to Singapore next year. The event is very popular in Istanbul, where it has been held for the last three years. It will be played in Singapore for five years.
My favorite fan sign: Li Na: Whatever, Whenever, Wherever, However. That kind of sums it up for me, too, and here's hoping that the Carlos Rodriguez-inspired improvements continue in 2014. As for Serena, she can now let her hair down and get some much-needed rest.