ISTANBUL, Turkey - No one lifts their game against the top players like Serena Williams, and she did it all over again on Thursday night, defeating Victoria Azarenka in straight sets to improve to 3-0 in the Red Group.
Going into the match against the World No.1, Williams had some daunting streaks against the upper echelon of the sport - 15 straight wins against Top 5 players, 10 straight wins against Top 2 players and five straight wins against No.1s. And the former No.1 wasn't about to let those bands leave the field.
Williams made her intentions known from the beginning, blasting her way to the first five points of the match; she would eventually take the first set, 6-4. The second set was a little more complicated as Azarenka built a 3-0 lead, but Williams never stopped swinging away, reeling off six of the next seven games to win, 64 64, an impressive 11th win in 12 career meetings with Azarenka.
The two players had comparable unforced errors in the match - Azarenka 22, Williams 23 - but the American dominated the winner count, 35 to 15.
"I'd been struggling with my serve in my first two rounds - I knew I could do better, so that was keeping me going," Williams said right after the match in her on-court interview. "And everything was just a little better today. I knew I needed to play better today to win against Victoria, who has had a stellar year.
"I'll probably have to play her again though - I can feel it."
And on the 3-0 second set hole? "I just hung in there," she said. "I was down two breaks but managed to stay pretty calm then, and throughout the whole match as well. I wasn't as emotional as I was in the first two rounds!"
Apart from extending the streaks against top players, there's another stat to note about Williams' win over Azarenka - it was her 16th career win over a World No.1, now standalone second-most in WTA history to the great Martina Navratilova, who had 18 of them (Lindsay Davenport also had 15).
Williams has also now won 46 of her last 48 matches, and was asked in her post-match press conference how she feels about the season coming to an end. "I can't wait to get to Australia," she replied, "I wish it started next month."
Williams will have Friday off, but it will be a big day for Azarenka, as she faces Li Na in the last round robin match of the Red Group - the winner of that match will qualify for the semifinals in second place in the Red Group, after Williams.
"I'll be sad for a little bit after today's match, but I'll bounce back strong for tomorrow - I'll take the best out of what I did today and transform into a better version for tomorrow," Azarenka said. "It's win or go home. I'll give everything I have to win because I want to stay a couple more days here and fight.
"I'm glad I have another opportunity to keep the dream alive."
Also, the year-end No.1 ranking is on the line on Friday - Azarenka will clinch it with a win over Li, or if Maria Sharapova loses to Samantha Stosur. The only way Azarenka does not clinch the year-end No.1 ranking this week is if she loses to Li on Friday and Sharapova goes on to win the title undefeated.