Serena Williams snapped out of her early doldrums to roar to a record seventh Miami WTA title on Saturday with a 7-5, 6-1 win over China’s Li Na.
In a battle of the sport’s top two players, the US world No. 1 took her tally of WTA titles to 59, including 17 Grand Slam triumphs.
The win took Williams’ trophy haul to two so far this year — she took the Brisbane title in January — and elevated her to the ranks of Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert as one of the only women in the Open era to win the same title seven or more times.
“I was actually super-excited at the end,” said Williams, who already owned the most WTA titles in the combined men’s and women’s event, but had shared the overall record of six trophies with Andre Agassi.
“Obviously, I wanted to have the most titles here,” added the American, who lives in Miami and first played the tournament as a 16-year-old. “I guess that I’ve grown up coming to this tournament as a kid, watching so many players, and to be one of those players now is really, really awesome for me.”
Williams’ ebullient celebration was a sharp contrast to her somnambulant start, during which Australian Open champion Li powered to a 5-2 lead, with Williams surrendering a second service break with a double-fault in the seventh game.
The seriousness of her situation seemed to wake Williams up and she won the next five games to take the set, saving a set point in the 10th and hanging on to break Li in a 12th game that went to deuce six times.
“I really thought I could do better,” Williams said of her thoughts at falling 5-2 down. “My serve percentage was super, super lowand I thought: ‘OK, I can serve a little better and I know I can return better. I’m practicing all these years and I have a good return. I need to start doing it.’”
Although she delivered only three aces in a match that lasted just less than two hours, Williams’ serve did steadily improve as the match wore on, as did the power and precision of her returns.
She seized a 5-1 lead in the second set with a fierce backhand winner on her fifth break point of the game and wrapped up the contest on her first match point.
Although the match turned so dramatically, with the American winning 11 of the last 12 games, her Chinese opponent had little to reproach herself for as she continued to battle even as Williams inexorably pulled away.
“I don’t think I was playing bad,” Li said. “Maybe she just started playing a little bit better after 5-2 down. I think it was a pretty good match.”
Li, who won her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, has now lost 10 straight matches against the world’s top ranked player.
Li’s only victory in their 12 meetings was in 2008, but Williams said she always feels challenged by the world No. 2.
“We just have this never-give-up fight,” Williams said, adding that she also feels a special connection with Li because they are both still battling on the WTA Tour at 32 years old. “It just goes to show that you can still shine at any age.”