Top-ranked Serena Williams breezed past Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1 to open her bid for a fourth WTA Championships title on Tuesday.
Williams, the defending champion, had no trouble against Kerber, who also lost to the American 6-4, 6-1 in the round-robin in Istanbul last year. Kerber was the only player to beat Williams last year — in Cincinnati, Ohio — after the American’s first-round ouster at the French Open.
Williams was particularly effective with her backhand return, the shot she also used on her first match point. Kerber, who had two straight double faults to surrender the first game of the second set, produced another to give Williams three match points.
Although she is 32, considered a ripe age in tennis, Williams is enjoying the finest season in her career, having already won 10 titles.
She added the French Open and US Open titles to bring her Grand Slam record to 17 championships and is 74-4 for the year.
Earlier, second-ranked Victoria Azarenka overcame an erratic performance to beat an ailing Sara Errani 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in the opening match of the tournament.
In the late match, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova, who had to withdraw during last year’s event because of injury, beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-4.
Kvitova, a former Wilmbledon champion, struggled to close out the match. She had four break points and wasted two match points, before winning on a challenge. Radwanska’s shot after a rally did not get a call, but Kvitova asked for a review and the replay showed that the ball had gone long.
Williams, making her eighth appearance in the event, is looking to become the first player to successfully defend the title since Justine Henin in 2007. Henin was also the last to win 10 titles in a season, in 2007.
Williams has already clinched the year-end world No. 1 ranking for the third time in her career after 2002 and 2009, and Kerber was impressed by Williams’ performance.
“I think I served very good, but she was returning unbelievable. Actually, she didn’t give me a small chance to breathe,” Kerber said.
Errani hurt her right calf in the third game of the second set and took a medical timeout to have it treated. Several times after that she seemed to be bothered by the injury and to favor her right leg, although she returned after the medical timeout to break Azarenka’s serve to level at 2-2. She did not win another game, though.
Errani served for the set three times — and dropped serve each time as both players produced sloppy play with little rhythm.
Azarenka, the Australian Open champion, managed to hold her serve only once through the first eight games, but seized her chance when it came.
She won four straight points in the tiebreaker to take a 5-3 lead and then faltered when she served her sixth double fault, but an error by Errani gave Azarenka two set points. Errani then committed a double fault and Azarenka had the set.
Azerenka, who was runner-up in the event in 2011 and a semi-finalist last year, finished with eight double faults, but she also had 51 winners to Errani’s 28.
Azarenka’s win was her first since losing the US Open final to Serena Williams. Azarenka lost both of her opening matches in Tokyo and Beijing, where she had 15 double faults.
Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is partnering China’s Peng Shuai in the doubles competition, which gets under way later this week.
Additional reporting by staff writer