Serena rallies to beat Wozniacki, to play for WTA Finals championship
SINGAPORE -- Serena Williams came back from a set down and 1-4 in the third set tiebreaker to beat Caroline Wozniacki 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) and advance to the championship match at the WTA Finals. The win put Serena into her third straight final at the tournament, having won the title in 2012 and 2013. She is looking to become the first woman to win the title in three consecutive years since Monica Seles. On Sunday she will play No. 4 Simona Halep, the same woman who dished out her worst loss in 16 years just four days ago, winning 6-0, 6-2 in group play. Halep advanced to the final with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska.
Saturday's semifinal was a far more entertaining and high-quality match than their U.S. Open final last month, where Serena got an easy 6-3, 6-3 victory to win her 18th Grand Slam title. On Saturday in Singapore, Serena came out flat and virtually gave the first set away in just 25 minutes, struggling to find her rhythm off the ground. Wozniacki, who came into the match having beaten three straight top eight players for the first time in her career, continued her strong form. Hitting just two unforced errors in the set, Wozniacki didn't give Serena any easy points and the world No. 1 responded by spraying 14 unforced errors. Despite serving at 80 percent, Serena won just 50 percent of her service points. Wozniacki, on the other hand, only lost three points on her serve for the whole set and never faced a break point.
"I had a good warm up and I wanted to have a really good start, but it just wasn't happening," Serena said. "I need to figure that out actually, because it's inexcusable for it to happen once, let alone twice," referring to her poor match against Halep.
Serena finally let out her frustration after Wozniacki held at 5-2, demolishing her trusty Wilson racket with a flurry of furious smashes. The effort didn't have much of an immediate effect. She was broken at 15 in the next game to lose the set.
"I don't know how many times I hit it, but boy, that racquet will never do my wrong again, I tell you," Serena said. "It was definitely legendary. I kind of lost my cool a little bit."
But Serena quickly put the first set behind her and motivated herself early in the second set with a dizzying combination of screams, fistpumps and roars, and the vocal surges helped her release the stress and unlock her game. She finally earned a break to 3-2 in the second set and rolled through in 31 minutes to force a third. The hitting and footwork were cleaner and as Serena made her push, Wozniacki backed off ever so slightly. That was enough of an opening for Serena to put herself in position to hit 15 winners to just 6 unforced errors. Her serve finally came online too -- she lost just two points on her serve in the set.
"I thought she was playing totally different," Serena said, comparing Saturday's match with their previous ones. "She had a whole new strategy. I finally was able to kind of figure it out in the second, and then I just was able to play a little better."
The final set was a rollercoaster. Both women exchanged serve for eight games, but it was Serena who blinked when serving at 4-4. She fell behind 0-30 with her second double-fault of the day and then a lucky netcord winner earned Wozniacki her first break point since the opening set. The piece of bad luck had the potential to end Serena's day. Wozniacki hit a tentative forehand long on break point to return to deuce. Then she earned another break point with a pinpoint backhand return winner and this time it was Serena's turn to make a mental error. In the midst of a hard-hitting rally, Serena chose to try a drop shot and Wozniacki tracked it down and pushed the ball into the open court. But serving for just her second win over Serena, Wozniacki was broken. Serena pounded three forehand winners and an overhead to break.
Then came the point of the match and possibly the tournament: with Wozniacki serving to force a tiebreaker, Serena was able to earn her first match point of the day, which Wozniacki saved by patrolling the net and handling every volley Serena threw at her. Watch the point below:
Wozniacki forced the tiebreaker and built a 4-1 lead, only to see Serena claw her way back into the tiebreaker and win it 8-6.
After such a dramatic win there was no massive celebration from Williams. She said it was out of respect to her good friend Caroline, who she said deserved to win.
"I didn't feel great about it, to be honest," Serena said. "She's like my little baby sister from a different mother and father and different country."
Wozniacki was understandably devastated after the loss. "This really sucks," she told reporters. "Being so close and still losing it really sucks." She had already beaten the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 6 players in the world and after taking three tough losses to Serena over the summer she was ready to turn the tables. Three of their four matches have gone deep in the third set this year but Wozniacki fell short every time.
"I told Serena, I said, Can you just leave me alone," Wozniacki said, laughing. "Like go away from the court. I don't want to see you on the court. I love you, but stay away from the other side of the court. Quite frankly, I'm tired of losing to you."
Six months ago few would have banked on Wozniacki even qualifying for the season-ending championships. She nearly fell out of the top 20 earlier this year and was struggling to string wins together. But since the beginning of June she has the most wins of anyone on tour. The lowest seed here in Singapore, she lost just one set, beating two Slam champions in Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova. She wanted to make a statement and end her season with what would have been the biggest title of her career. But she fell three points short.
"I just really, really wanted to be in that finals," Wozniacki said. "I felt like I played so well. But when you play Serena, even when you play your best tennis, sometimes that's not enough."
Intrigue surrounds Sunday's championship match between Serena and Halep. The fact that Serena even qualified for the semifinals is due in part to Halep, who fought back after losing the first set to Ana Ivanovic on Friday night to win a set before losing in three. That single set put Serena through. Now the American will get a chance to avenge a loss she described as "embarrassing".
"I'm excited," Serena said. "My goal is to win three games. That'll be my first goal. I'm going to go from there. Hopefully I can hold serve. That would be good. Most of all, I hope to break once. So I'm starting out with low goals."
Sunday's final begins at 7:00 pm local time, 7:00 am ET.