ISTANBUL, Turkey - Victoria Azarenka continued to show her biggest weapon may not be her massive forehand, similarly massive backhand, her movement or anything else you can clock with a radar gun - it might just be her mind. For the second time in the round robin the World No.1 battled back from an early deficit to win - and this one meant she'll be year-end World No.1.
In a match that would decide the last semifinalist at the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships - Istanbul 2012, Azarenka faced Li Na, a player she had split eight career meetings with and who had pushed her to three sets in both of their meetings this year. And it wasn't easy this time either, as she slumped to an early 4-2 deficit and struggled to tame her game - she would finish the match with six winners to 25 unforced. But that wouldn't stop her.
Whether it was going less for the lines, retrieving that one extra ball or keeping her emotions in check at the biggest moments, the Belarusian did all the right things from there, and she snuck out the first set and eventually won, 76(4) 63.
"I felt like the first set was a bit of a roller coaster - she was playing well at some points and I was playing well at some points, and we're both big shotmakers, so it all depended on who was getting control at what time," Azarenka said. "The momentum was going back and forth, but I'm glad I stayed through it and fought hard, even though I didn't feel I was executing well."
By virtue of the victory, Azarenka clinched the year-end No.1 ranking.
"It's a dream come true and I feel great," Azarenka said right after the match. "Now I just want to play my last matches of the year and then after that I can relax and enjoy this moment more. Right now I'm in competition and trying to focus on every single day - there's still a lot of challenge in this tournament."
And the challenge doesn't get any easier, at all. Azarenka's win on Friday also clinched her a spot in the semifinals on Saturday, where she'll face the No.2 player in the world, Maria Sharapova - Azarenka leads Sharapova in the head-to-head series, 7-4, and has won their last six hardcourt meetings.
"There are definitely not going to be any surprises tomorrow, but it's a different occasion, a different place, "Azarenka said. "I've never played her at the WTA Championships, so it's new and it's not new - you can take it both ways."
A few days ago in her first round robin match, Li led Serena Williams 4-1 first set before falling in straight sets - quite similar to her match with Azarenka. "It was the same as the Serena match, a pretty good start and then, I don't know, I just always do the same thing!" Li commented. "But I still have positives to take away: this tournament I played the No.1, No.3 and No.5 in the world and it was a good challenge; I didn't have injuries this year and am healthy at the end of the season; and I'm really looking forward to next year, the next season."