ISTANBUL, Turkey - It all seemed stacked against her - an exhausting semifinal victory the day before, an inspired opponent in the final - but like she has done time and time again, and again and again, Serena Williams found that extra gear right when she needed it, battling back from a set down to beat Li Na and win the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships for the fourth time in her career.
After a grinding 64 26 64 semifinal victory over Jelena Jankovic on Saturday, Williams talked about having hit a wall after the longest - and arguably best - season of her career. And during the early stages of the final against Li, it looked like she was still trying to break through that figurative wall.
The No.4-seeded Li was phenomenal in the first set - she blasted a huge crosscourt backhand to break for 2-1, then a picture perfect angled backhand return winner to break again for 4-1. She would never look back and showed off some of her newfound volleying skills on set point, coming into the net and hitting some fantastic volleys, winning the set on a missed backhand passing shot from Williams.
Li had 10 winners to eight unforced errors in the set. Williams, five winners to 10 unforced errors.
Williams was in trouble again in the first game of the second set, as Li brought up break points - having not even faced a break point in the first set, surely a set and a break would be somewhat of a trunk-slammer. But after a backhand winner to fight off one of the break points, Williams let out a huge 'come on' - to the delight of the fans, the 17-time Grand Slam champion and World No.1 had awoken.
The No.1-seeded Williams would race out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, and even though Li would get it back to 3-all, it never seemed like the momentum had fully shifted - and it hadn't, as Williams would then reel off the next nine games in a row to complete a runaway 26 63 60 championship victory.
Williams blasted a backhand winner down the line on match point - her 30th winner of the match.
An elated Williams spoke to Katrina Adams in her on-court interview right after the match.
"I don't know how I got through that one," Williams said. "I've just had a really long year, and I'm just really excited, honestly. I really didn't expect to get through this match today. Wow, thank God.
"I can't believe I won. I was so tired. Honestly, did I really win? Because she played so well."
The numbers keep piling up for Williams: she is the fourth player ever to win four or more titles at this event (after Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf); she is the oldest ever champion at this event (at 32 years and 1 month); she is the first player to win 11 WTA titles in a season since 1997 (when Martina Hingis won 12); and she has now won 32 of her last 34 matches against Top 5 players.
Most amazingly, she now has $12,385,572 in prize money for the year, shattering the all-time women's record set last year by Victoria Azarenka ($7,923,920). It's also the third-highest single season prize money total in tennis history, men's and women's - only Djokovic's 2011 and 2012 totals are higher.
"I'm just overjoyed, to be honest," Williams added. "It's really awesome. It's such a special moment. To finish the year No.1 in the world and win this title after 40 years of the WTA, it means even more."