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By Chris Oddo/ Saturday, October 26, 2013

 

Serena Williams is running on fumes in Istanbul, but that won't keep her from being the heavy favorite in tomorrow's WTA Championships final.

Photo Source: AP

Serena Williams is running on fumes and Li Na is energized, but don't think for a second that the Chinese dynamo will be the favorite when she meets Williams for the 11th time in tomorrow's WTA Championships final in Istanbul.

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"I think my body's a little tired after so many matches - I think yesterday I kind of hit a wall,” Williams said after today's semifinal match. “But I'm just fighting out here.”

Williams was as close to mental and physical exhaustion as we've seen her in 2013 on Saturday during her three-set dogfight with Jelena Jankovic, but as tired as she was the 32-year-old found a way to notch her 77th win of the season and 14th consecutive win at the WTA championships with and up-and-down but ultimately gritty performance.

“I’m really proud that I was even able to stay out there today,” Williams said after her 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Jankovic. “And, you know, tomorrow is the final, so obviously everyone gets pumped up. I’m hoping I’ll get some adrenaline going tomorrow.”

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In the first final between two players aged thirty or greater at the WTA Championships, Williams, a three-time champion and now six-time finalist, will be the heavy favorite no matter how fatigued she might be.

But that doesn't mean Li, who will become the highest-ranked Asian player in the history of tennis on Monday at No. 3 in the world, won't have her chances against Serena.

And who knows, maybe the upset is possible.

Li has been in exquisite form in Istanbul, dropping only one set and losing only nine games in her last two matches against Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova.

She's also decidedly fresher than Williams, who admitted that she's starting to hit the wall after one of her busiest seasons, which has seen her play more than 80 matches for the first time in her career.

But on Sunday Li will face a woman who has won nine of ten against her, including the last eight and each of the last 16 sets. Williams crushed Li in a heavily anticipated U.S. Open semifinal, and the Wuhan, China native will have to put that match behind out of her mind if she is to have any hope of pulling the upset on Sunday.

Li told reporters on Saturday that she came out confident against Williams in New York, but after a few games, that confidence was gone. One reason might have been her inability to win points at the net, something that she was clearly banking on during that match. But when Williams passed her time and time again, it seemed that Li was deflated.

Li has made marked improvements to her serve and her net game under coach Carlos Rodriguez, but she'll have to do a better job of picking her spots against Williams when it comes to charging the net. Coming in behind a lame approach shot against a woman who can hit blistering 100 MPH passing shots is a recipe for disaster, and hopefully Li learned that lesson in New York.

As far as Williams goes, she'll just have to gather her strength and intensity to make one last push on Sunday. Williams will more than likely show up energized on Sunday, realizing that the finish line is near.

“Tomorrow is the final, so I’m hoping I’ll get some adrenaline going tomorrow,” she said.

And if she finds herself getting tired, she can just think about the fact that she is trying to become only the fourth player in WTA history to win this prestigious event four or more times—she would join Martina Navratilova (8), Steffi Graf (5) and Chris Evert (4) if she can win the title.

When there's a lot on the line, Serena Williams tends to put her best foot forward. That should be the case again tomorrow as the season comes to a close.

Pick: Williams in Two

 

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