SINGAPORE -- No. 1 Serena Williams avenged her loss to No. 4 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 to win her third straight WTA Finals and seventh title of the season. After an inconsistent first seven months, Williams has been dominant over the final three months of the season. She finishes the season winning titles in Stanford, Cincinnati, the U.S. Open and now in Singapore, and with the five WTA Finals titles under her belt, she joins Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the only players to ever win the tournament five or more times.
"I ended the year well," Williams said. "I had a couple injuries in the beginning of Asia, but I'm glad I came and I was able to end well. So I think that was important. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right?"
Lightning couldn't strike twice for Halep, who beat Williams 6-2, 6-0 five days ago in group play. The loss was Williams' first to a top ten player this season and her worst loss since she was 16-years-old in 1998. Immediately after that loss, Williams said she was already looking forward to a rematch. She just didn't realize she would get the chance so soon, and the fact that Williams was even in the final was in some part due to Halep: the 23-year-old single-handedly secured Williams' spot in the semifinals by winning a set off Ana Ivanovic on Friday.
The first set was far more competitive than the scoreline. Halep won the toss and unconventionally chose to receive. She kept the pressure on Williams' serve early, breaking in the third game with a great backhand down the line and looked well on her way to consolidating. But up 40-15 on her serve she threw in a double-fault and Serena earned her first break point of the match with two big forehand return winners. After a lengthy five deuce game Serena finally broke back to 2-all. She broke Halep again in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead.
"I was trying to stay positive and trying to just stay out there and play better," Williams said. "Like I made so many errors in our last game. I knew for a fact I couldn't make that many errors. I had to play more Serena-style tennis and just do what I do best: [impose] myself. That's what I was trying to do."
With the momentum firmly on her side Williams suddenly faltered. She played a great serve and volley to earn a 30-love lead but then threw in back-to-back double-faults to give Halep an opportunity to break back. One break point was all the Romanian needed. Halep fired a forehand winner to break and get back on serve at 4-3. Unfortunately for her, it would be the last game she won.
Williams responded by reeling off the final eight games of the match. Her serve and forehand, which deserted her in their prior meeting, started to click. All of a sudden Halep was left playing reactive tennis. Prior to the match Halep said she had no chance if she got stuck behind the baseline against Serena, but that's precisely where she spent most of the match. Lacking the depth and placement to push Serena back off her offensive position, Halep was outgunned. Williams finished the match with 26 winners to 25 unforced errors, while Halep hit 5 winners to 15 unforced errors. Halep won just seven points in the second.
"I was a little bit nervous," Halep said. "I was tired a little bit and I couldn't make the step into the court and to open the court to play more aggressive. I gave everything today, and that was my level today. Wasn't my best day, but I'm still happy and I'm still enjoying this moment because it's a good moment for me." The first Romanian to make the title match at the WTA Finals, Halep will finish the season at No. 3 behind Williams and Maria Sharapova. She was the eighth player to advance to the final in their tournament debut and was trying to become just the fourth player to win the title on their debut.
It was an up and down year for Williams, who played well on the WTA Tour but faltered at three of the four Slams. Feeling the pressure to capture her 18th Slam title to tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for the second on the list of Slam titles in the Open Era, Williams lost before the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. Her second round loss to Garbine Muguruza in Paris was her worst ever at a Slam. She followed it up with a Wimbledon in which she lost to Alize Cornet and then retired from her doubles match under bizarre circumstances. Since Wimbledon she returned to her dominant form. She finishes the year winning 26 of her 29 matches. It may have been sub-par by Serena's standards, but she now finds herself building a head of steam for 2015.
"I was the best I could be this year for me," Williams said. "I'm so looking forward next year. I can't wait to get started again. It'll be fun."
This post was updated.