By Erik Gudris/Saturday, October 26, 2013
After a long season, a weary Serena Williams summoned yet another way to win to advance into the WTA Championships finals over Jelena Jankovic.
Photo Credit: AP
Serena Williams continues to enjoy a successful and long, in fact, very long, 2013 season. Not only has she won 10 titles, but she's competed in 81 singles matches this year. That's the most ever she's played in one season.
All that court time appeared to finally catch up with the No. 1 as she faced off against a familiar foe in Jelena Jankovic at the WTA Championships semifinals. Williams was the favorite, especially after having won their last two meetings this year. The only question to ask would be if Jankovic could make it a worthy contest.
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Jankovic's brother, who is also her coach now, said before the match that his sister would try to be more aggressive than in previous meetings. While Jankovic stuck to that game plan early by attacking returns, it was what was happening across the net that she had no control over, but yet, had to take advantage of.
Simply put, Williams was not herself. Barely tossing in both first and second serves, Williams threw in a forehand error to give Jankovic a 3-1 lead. It was only the second time all week Williams allowed someone to break her. Williams broke back in the next game. But on the changeover, Williams buried her head into towel and never looked up.
Was she injured? No one could really tell and it didn't seem to matter after Williams ripped through eight straight points. But even Jankovic herself looked unnerved by Williams' emotions and looked unsure how to respond. Despite all her intentions to force the issue, Jankovic remained a passenger to the ride she was being given by Williams. Bumpy and slow as it was.
A forehand error from Jankovic gave Williams the set soon enough 6-4. Order appeared restored. But for how long?
Not enough at least for Williams who started moving even slower in the second set. Jankovic, who was smiling and seemed to be enjoying being in a big semifinal again, once again found herself up an early break. When Jankovic broke a sluggish Williams again for 5-1, that prompted a few fans in the crowd to whistle in derision at what they felt was a poor performance from Williams.
Whether it was that or perhaps a need to end the points quicker, Williams started swinging more freely and connecting on winners. It wasn't enough to stop Jankovic from winning the set eventually 6-2. But it was enough to probably make Jankovic think the final set would not be so easy.
She still didn't look 100%, but Williams raised her level perhaps by five percent. That was enough to navigate a pair of breaks between her and Jankovic early in the final set. Soon Williams was up 3-1. But though Williams still looked vulnerable, Jankovic didn't press the issue. Serving at only 50% and tossing in untimely errors, Jankovic often found herself on the losing end of rallies.
Now booming in big serves at will, Williams jumped out to 5-1. But after Jankovic held her own serve for 5-2, Williams still had to close things out.
And that proved difficult.
After missing out on her first match point with a netted forehand, Williams could only face palm in disgust. When she dropped serve after sending a backhand long, Williams summoned enough energy from her empty fuel tanks to almost crack her racquet in two before she restrained herself. Jankovic did her part to prolong the drama by holding serve again.
Now Williams had a second try to serve for it at 5-4. What looked inevitable proved anything but as Williams missed out on two more match point chances. A backhand error led to a break point for Jankovic.
But Williams snuffed that out with a well-timed ace that sent her own coach to his feet in approval. Finally on her fourth match point, Williams ended it with a smash winner to close out the dramatic and often strange 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory to put herself back into the year-end finals.
Williams confirmed later that she was not injured either before or during the match. Just after she won she said, "I was really trying out here. I think my body is a little tired after so many matches. I think yesterday I kind of hit a wall but you know I'm fighting and honestly I can't believe I'm still in the tournament. So I just feel really good to play in the final tomorrow.
Williams may have hit the proverbial "wall", but she busted through it to give herself a chance to defend her title against China's Li Na. Sunday will be Williams's 82nd and last singles match of the season.
No rest for the weary indeed.