ISTANBUL – The TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships did not end with a thud, but it sure would have been nice to see any player but Serena step up and play at an A-plus level and really challenge the great Williams for the crown. In the last two days of the Championships, Serena was there for the taking. She was exhausted, had lost some power on her serve and groundstrokes and was not moving particularly well. But she willed herself to victory, because she has such a large heart, so much skill and so much know-how.
Jelena Jankovic, who has played her so tough in the past, folded in the third set of their semifinal. Li Na, who has so much talent, completely ran out of steam in the last set and half of her 2-6, 6-3 6-0 loss to now four-time WTA Championships winner Williams in the final. Li appears to have enough talent to play with Serena, but she does not have her keen focus or self-belief. Unlike Serena, she does not have fathomless mental reserve.
Here’s my take on the final.
The WTA Championships certainly missed the injured Maria Sharapova’s intensity level. She is not as skilled as Williams, which is clear by their head-to- head record, but she comes to play every time out. She does not complain or offer excuses and she continually pushes her self in every match, even if she has little chance of winning.
The same cannot be said of most of the rest of the tour. Victoria Azarenka is terrific player and was the only woman out there this year who showed she was capable of going toe to toe with Williams as she beat her two times – half of Serena’s four losses. But she had a forgetful fall, only winning one match, complaining of burnout while Istanbul and then showing she is still overly sensitive when it comes to criticism when she decided to play on against Li Na with a bad back when she should have retired. She didn’t want to be termed as a physically fragile player again, but she knows she still has something to prove in that department. However, in that instance, when she had nothing left to offer on court, she should have called it a night. Anyone who would ripped her for that would have been clueless.
While Jelena Jankovic was fun to have around because she is such a terrific quote and can be very personable, she did go 1-3 at the WTA Championships, which is not exactly an indication that she will meet her goal of becoming a top 5 player again. Agnieszka Radwanska looked tired and needs to reassess her schedule. Sara Errani gave it all in every match but she’s still lacking weapons. Petra Kvitova is a talented yet up and down player who needs to be more consistent off the ground, with her return, add some more power to her serve and find a way to boost her auto-immune system so she isn’t dealing with viruses every other month.
Alternate Caroline Wozniacki recently told the London Times that she’s still a “great” player. While I do think she can still contend for Slam titles given a few substantial improvements, she certainly has not been great over the last two years by any stretch of even her Danish fans’ imagination. Great players don’t missed the cut at the WTA Championships two years in a row. Sloane Stephens, 20, was the other alternate, and clearly as the youngest player in the top 12, she had a very good year in many ways, especially by reaching the second week of every Slam. But she now appears to be very uncomfortbale in her own skin and has been fearful of talking to the media since the spring after she publicly laid into Serena. She needs to mature if she going to challenge for the top 5 in 2014.
All in all, this was Serena’s year. She won 11 titles, including Roland Garros and the US Open, and registered a 78-4 record (.951), the best winning percentage since Steffi Graf in 1989. She won a record $12.38 million in prize money. She will not call this season her best ever as in 2002 she won three Slams, but it was top 3 in her eyes. Even at 32, she feels like she can improve and since she really has over the past two years or so, don’t put it past her to do so again in 2014. She does not think it’s possible for anyone to go undefeated, but as she said earlier in the week, she had chances to win in all her four losses to Azarenka, Sabine Lisicki and Stephens. While Roger Federer, who is also 32, struggles to remain relevant as a super elite player, Williams is the standard bearer for the WTA. In fact, she’s the standard bearer for the entire sport.
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