Serena Williams has won her first match at the BNP Parabis WTA Finals in Singapore as she tries to defend both her title and her No. 1 position in the WTA Tour world rankings. The top seed beat seventh seed Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-4.
Defending the title and the ranking is a tall order for the American who had to pull out of Beijing and Shanghai with a left knee injury and has Beijing champion and recently ranked No. 2 Maria Sharapova chasing her for the No. 1 ranking – only a 466 point difference separates the two. However, Williams, while rusty, overcame a difficult opponent with the fight she has made her name with. Ivanovic had beaten her in the fourth round of the Australian Open in Melbourne earlier this year and had taken her to three sets in their Stanford quarter final match, and could have pushed the world No. 1 further had a few shots here and there gone her way.
Despite struggling with her serve, Williams took a 4-1 lead in the opening match of the tournament, played for the first time in Singapore after three hugely successful years in Istanbul. Ivanovic, who is competing in her first WTA Finals since 2008, then fought back to level the match at 4-4. The momentum her way, Ivanovic then had a chance to break for 5-4 but she made on error on a volley and Williams went on to hold for 5-4. That error would prove crucial. The American grabbed the momentum, and few players escape from sticky situations better than Williams, to get to 0-40 on the Ivanovic serve. The Ivanovic serve is liable to breaking down when under spotlight and the Serbian caved under the pressure, giving up the set on a double fault.
Ivanovic, who said after the match that the missed volley at break point 4-4 caused her to get “down” on herself, did not stay down for long. She broke at the start of the second set. perhaps stirred on by memories of coming back from a set down in Melbourne to get her first win over her opponent back in January. But her revival was short lived as she was immediately broken back. The two rivals then held serve to 4-4 at which point Williams took control of the match, dominating from the baseline with winners, and placed herself at the top of the red group leader board.
Hitting 25 winners and 12 aces and shouting “come on” with her typical fight throughout her performance, Williams sent out the signal to the other players in her round group, of whom Ivanovic is the only one to beat her, that she would be difficult to topple. Simona Halep, however, gave an impressive performance of her own as she joined Williams at the top of the leader board after beating Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-3.
Williams also sent a message to world No. 2 Maria Sharapova. The Russian has a chance to take over at the top of the WTA world rankings with 6680 points to Williams’ 7146. Williams, who went undefeated at last year’s event, has 1500 points to defend at the finals while Sharapova has no points to defend after being forced to sit out last year’s event on the sidelines with injury. Williams leads second seeded Sharapova 15-2 in their head to head and has not lost to her since the WTA Finals 2004 championship match.
Commentary by Christian Deverille
Photo courtesy of Marianne Bevis – License