MIAMI, FL, USA - She was already tied with Steffi Graf for the record of most titles at the Sony Open Tennis, and now she's tied with her fellow WTA legend for the record of most match wins at the Sony Open Tennis - Serena Williams scored her 59th career match win at the Premier-level tournament on Tuesday, starting and finishing strong to close Li Na out in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
Under difficult conditions, Williams was just a little bit sharper than Li in the first set - she had one more winner and three less unforced errors, and went one-for-three on break points while Li went zero-for-three. After 42 minutes Williams had tucked away the first set, 6-3, and her momentum was building.
Williams carried that momentum to a 2-0 lead in the second set but things got far more complicated from there as Li caught fire, her huge groundstrokes starting to find their range as she reeled off five games in a row for a 5-2 lead. She even had a set point on Williams' serve in that game - but the World No.1 saved it and went on her own run from there, winning four of the next five games and taking the match in a tie-break, rifling a forehand passing shot winner on match point to finish it, 63 76(5).
Williams was asked afterwards about coming back to win - a day before, she rallied from 62 41 down to beat Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round. She had a 0-3 start in her third round match as well.
"This week it seems to be something I've been doing," Williams commented. "I like to believe that I try to be a problem solver. I just try to do things differently if something's not working, you know.
"In today's match it was like, 'Look, I can't hit any more double faults. It's embarrassing and unprofessional. I hit about 50 in one game, and it was just outrageous. It was like, 'At this point I shouldn't be a professional tennis player.' That was my goal, 'I'm not hitting any more double faults.'"
The last five meetings between Williams and Li have been straight set wins for Williams, but they have all been very close. "She's a good player," Williams said of the World No.5. "She always plays well and she has such fight. She never quits out there, and I think that we have a lot of that in common."
And on the leap she made after match point? "I don't usually leap like that in the quarterfinals, but it was just a good shot and I kind of expected her to get it. She didn't - I was glad because she played such a good tie-breaker, and I think it may have been the only point I won on her serve in it."
"I hope to get more - if not this year, next year," Williams said of the achievement. "Steffi is such a great champion but when you go out there you don't think, 'I'm going to break this person's record, I'm going to break that person's record.' You just say to yourself, 'Okay, can I break serve?'"
"I had chances but I didn't hold,," Li said. "She's the best player in the world, so if you don't take your chances, she will never give you a chance again. But I still have to see it in a positive way. I played well here. I just have to continue to work with my team and get ready for the clay court season.
"I'm looking forward to the clay court season because I'm healthy and hitting the ball well."