Serena Williams survived a serving nightmare to overcome eighth seed Li Na 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 in the second match of their round-robin stage at the 2012 WTA Championships.
Williams looked far from composed in the opening throes but quickly regained her confidence to take the first set on a tie-break. Li was just as erratic – at one point holing a 4-1 lead in the first set before crumbling to the pressures of consistency.
The crushing moment came in the second at 3-1 Williams when the American served for nine minutes before finally putting away her spirited opponent.
There were eight breaks of serve in the first set before Serena found her rhythm to take the tie-break 7-2. The American had served for the set at 5-4 yet her inability to keep Li on the back foot gave her Chinese opponent the freedom to come back at her with real vigour.
Williams looked bewildered by her serving at times, hitting just 51% of her first serves and double faulting on five occasions. This led her to a 4-1 deficit before bringing the set back into contention; for Li started hard and capitalised on a slow Williams serve to break her opponent before she had time to compose herself in Istanbul.
First set statistics:
Yet as soon as Williams found her stride there was no stopping the Wimbledon, US and Olympic champion. Her clinical play in the tie-break proved her experience in crucial situations and despite hitting 22 unforced errors to 16 Williams took the first.
The 15-time Grand Slam champion looked far more determined in the second set: breaking Li to build a 3-1 lead and reaching her standard 195 km/h first-serve speeds. The next game, with the scores at deuce, Williams hit a great ace before screaming with relief; although Li would not die, saving five game points before finally losing out after nine minutes of Williams serves.
Li, as good as she was bad in Istanbul, double faulted at 30-30 when 5-2 down in the second set before playing some wonderful cross-court tennis to gain the advantage. Both points isolated would give completely different accounts of Li’s performance and another double fault ensued before she took the game with the help of the net.
Yet William’s eventual experience was too much for Li and the American won a gruelling and bewildering match with a love service game.