It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish – that was the statement Serena Williams made after she wrapped up her fifth WTA Finals title with an overpowering victory over Simona Halep on Sunday.
After a year she described as the most “up and down” of her career, Williams stepped up when it mattered the most – in the tail-end of the season.
Having fallen short in the first three majors in 2014, Williams struck back to grab the US Open title – her 18th grand slam – and rebounded from injury and a shocking result to Halep in Singapore earlier in the week, to clinch the Billie Jean King Trophy.
“It's been a really difficult year for me. I don't think I've had such an up and down year. But I ended the year well. I had a couple injuries in the beginning of Asia, but I'm glad I came and I was able to end well. So I think that was important. It’s not how you start it’s how you finish, right?” said Williams after the win.
Gunning for a third Finals title in three years, Williams was in a unique situation, looking to avoid a second defeat to the same player in one tournament for the first time in her career.
She had lost to Halep 6-0, 6-2 just four days prior in the round robin stages and was adamant on doing better. Before the match, she set herself modest goals – just win three games, one more than the last time.
But Williams went above and beyond that, handing the Romanian a bagel of her own en route to a 6-3, 6-0 rout in just 69 minutes to become the first player to pull off a "threepeat" at the championships since Monica Seles achieved that feat in 1992.
Halep was the first to break in the match, edging ahead 2-1 but Williams did not panic. She was serving better, moving better and immediately broke back even though Halep was on her way to hold for a 3-1 lead, up 40-0. They exchanged breaks in games six and seven but Williams went on to take eight games in a row to avenge her defeat to the 23-year-old in emphatic fashion.
“I had to play more Serena‑style tennis and just do what I do best: enforce myself. That's what I was trying to do,” Williams said of how she made sure she didn’t suffer a second loss to Halep.
Halep could have eliminated Williams from the competition had she lost to Ana Ivanovic in straight sets on Friday but just like the Romanian said the thought never crossed her mind, the world No1 said she would never expect her opponent to think like that.
“That's not how we as WTA players play. We play and give our all for everything,” said the American. “She definitely gives her all, so I don't think that went through her mind at all.”
On her part, Halep, who rose to No3 in the world today, was disappointed to lose but tried to focus on the big picture and her great week in Singapore, where she was making her Finals debut.
“I was a little bit nervous. I was tired a little bit and I couldn't make the step into the court and to, you know, open the court to play more aggressive,” she said.
Indeed Halep lacked aggression and could only hit five winners throughout the match and went to the net just twice.
“Today she was much stronger than me,” Halep added. “She had more power. I knew that she will be more motivated during this match because we played few days ago and I won that match."
A Serena Williams press conference is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Actually, that’s not true, with a box of chocolates, I always know I’ll get something awesome. But that’s never guaranteed with Williams.
Except this week in press, the world No1 has been consistently chatty and patient when answering our questions, and yesterday, she was exceptionally hilarious.
Williams started the week by complimenting a journalist for using the word “trepidation” in a question and on Saturday, she was discussing a Liam Neeson movie.
When someone asked her to grade the Singapore tournament, in its inaugural edition, she said: “My first album I ever got in my life was Mariah Carey, so the fact that they provided tickets to the Mariah Carey convert, I give it an 11.”
On court yesterday, Williams destroyed a racquet in frustration when she was trailing Caroline Wozniacki, an act that was reminiscent of the infamous Marcos Baghdatis racquet smash at the 2012 Australian Open.
“I don't know how many times I hit it, but boy, that racquet will never do me wrong again, I tell you,” said Williams. “It was definitely legendary.”
After a lengthy explanation, she funnily managed to squeeze in a “I’m not proud it” just to keep her bases covered.
As the conversation led to the stress she had to go through on Friday when she was waiting on other players’ results to know whether she had qualified to the semis or not, Williams revealed it was incredibly nerve-wracking and said she hates drama, even in film.
“It was crazy. I don't want to do that no more. I'm going to have to ‑ if I qualify next yeah, I'm winning my matches. I don't like my fate to be in someone else's hands,” she said.
“Halep was up 5‑1 and I thought ‘well, maybe I'll qualify. Then she lost and I called my assistant and said, ‘we might need to book a flight’. And then next thing I know she was up in the second and then it was even. I thought ‘this is too much’.
“Next year I'm going to play my matches, win the three, and go from there. That's what Caroline did. No stress for her. It's too stressful for me. That was like a drama on Netflix, and I don't like or watch dramas.
“I do not do pressure well. What I do is fast forward to the end and I watch ‑ like I was watching this movie with Liam Neeson and he was caught in the snow. Wolf (The Grey) or something. You know that movie? It was awful. And he was in a plane crash I watched the first 20 minutes and my heart rate got going and I said ‘Okay’.
“So I fast forwarded a little bit and still drama. So a little bit more, still drama. So I went to the end and he ended up dying. I thought ‘what?’ Imagine if I had watched the whole movie. I would've really been disappointed. I cry easy. I watch comedies and I watch, you know ‑ yeah, comedies. Action moves. I love action moves. The Avengers, comics, but I cannot do drama.”
Andy Murray took a huge step towards sealing his place in the ATP World Tour finals as he beat top seed David Ferrer 6-4, 7-5 to reach the Valencia Open final yesterday.
Murray has put himself in prime position for a seventh consecutive appearance at the season-ending tournament in London with a run of 17 wins in his last 19 matches, including victory over Ferrer in the Austrian Open final last week.
The Scot and Ferrer are currently eighth and ninth in the race to London with four places still up for grabs following Rafael Nadal’s decision to withdraw to have his appendix removed on Friday.
Murray can move as high as fifth in the standings with his third title in little over a month when he faces Tommy Robredo in today’s final.
Robredo, the world number 21, defeated Jeremy Chardy of France 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/2) in his semi-final.
“You do get an adrenaline rush playing in front of a big crowd,” said Murray, who lifted the Valencia title in 2009.
“Because of the way the match was today there was a lot of very important points as well so the crowd were very engaged in the match and it was a great atmosphere.”
Ferrer paid a generous tribute to Murray who leads Robredo 4-2 in their caree head-to-heads and Chardy by 5-1. “Murray served pretty well at first set and I couldn’t do anything,” said Ferrer.
“In the first set and part of second, he was better than me. Andy is a pretty good player. If you aren’t focused against him, you pay.”
One break of serve in the opening game of the match was enough for Murray to take the first set as he looked polished on serve to take it 6-4.
However, the second set was a rollercoaster as Murray appeared to be cruising to victory when he secured a double break to move ahead 3-0.
Willed on by the home crowd, though, Ferrer, a three-time champion in Valencia, bounced back to move 4-3 ahead.
Murray then had to save a break point to level at 4-4, but the match swung back in Murray’s favour when Ferrer fired long to leave the Scot serving for the match at 6-5.
And despite having to save three break points, Murray eventually closed it out with a thumping forehand winner.