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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tugging her long blonde braid, Caroline Wozniacki could feel stress spike and a dreaded déjà vu developing.

A revitalized Venus Williams had reeled off four straight games and was within a couple of points of leveling the second set.

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Winless in seven prior career clashes with Williams, Wozniacki was in no mood for another near miss.

Streaking forward, Wozniacki scooped her signature shot, the backhand down the line, sealing a pulsating 6-4, 6-4, victory over Williams in a spirited Singapore final to capture her first career WTA Finals championship.

“I’m still shaking,” Wozniacki told Andrew Krasny afterward. “I was up 5-0. I was playing well, everything was going well and all of a sudden Venus started upping her game. She went for her shots, she started serving to my body and I’m just so happy I managed to win in the end.”

Contesting her eighth final of the season, Wozniacki defeated Williams for the first time in eight meetings hurling her yellow-and-black Babolat racquet aside in an eruption of emotion while her father and coach Peter Wozniacki embraced co-coach Sascha Bajin.

“Eight is my lucky number, I thought if I’m gonna beat her at least once in my career it has to be today,” Wozniacki said. “I don’t know. I just want out there and did my best.

“It’s really sweet. It’s amazing. I couldn’t feel any happier right now.”

It was a gallant effort from the 37-year-old Williams, who was bidding to win her 50th career title and become the first woman since Gabriela Sabatini in 1994 to win her first title of a season at the WTA Finals.

The oldest WTA Finals finalist, perhaps drained by her three-set conquest of Caroline Garcia in yesterday's semifinals, was down 6-4, 5-0 before rousing herself.

Amping up her serve and blistering strikes into the corners, Williams roared back serving at 4-5, 30-all, but could not complete her comeback.

The former No. 1, who began the season testing sister Serena in the Australian Open final, did not win a title in 2017 but contested two major finals and showed on her best day she can still beat the best.

The Wimbledon runner-up showed class and commitment going down swinging today.

“It’s an honor—only eight people get to be here and I do hope to return,” Williams told the Singpore crowd. “Congratulations, Caroline, what a week, you played well.”

“I tried my best. I didn’t seem to come up with my best tennis until it was a little too late. I’ll try to come up with my best earlier next time it might be a good plan.”

Showing her harder-hitting opponent varied spins and heights on her shots, Wozniacki used the slower surfaced to her advantage, extending the 37-year-old Williams in lateral baseline rallies. Wozniacki sent a message from the start: every point will come with a physical price.

The 27-year-old Dane played cleaner tennis throughout. Wozniacki committed just eight errors in the final compared to 32 for Williams, while converting six of nine break points.

The sixth-seeded Wozniacki's serve sparked her Singapore surge. Wozniacki matched Williams in aces (four), led the eight-player field in aces and frequently used that first serve to spread the court.

Wozniacki angled an inside-out forehand to break first for 3-1 only to see Williams crank a crosscourt backhand breaking back for 2-3. With the match level at 3-all, Wozniacki clicked into a higher gear winning eight of the next nine games to take charge.

In the eighth game, Wozniacki whipped a forehand down the line for break point.

A crackling crosscourt forehand rally ensued. Wozniacki held her ground spinning a wide-angled forehand to pull Williams off the court then shooting a forehand winner down the line, punctuating the longest point of the match to break for 5-3.

The deficit sparked Williams, who responded slashing successive forehand winners down the line then blasted a backhand down the opposite sideline, breaking back at 15 for 4-5.

Scattering a forehand wide—her third forehand error of the game—put Williams down double set point. The former No. 1 sailed another forehand down the line as Wozniacki seized the 41-minute opening set.

It was just the second set Wozniacki won in 16 career sets against the veteran.

Wozniacki took her cracks down the line, hitting 10 winners against only three unforced errors, while Williams posted 17 winners against 12 errors in the first set.

Serving with accuracy to set up the first strike, Wozniacki stretched Williams then rifled another backhand winner down the line holding at love to start the second set.

Empowered, Wozniacki absorbed Williams’ pace drawing a netted backhand to break again—her third consecutive game—for 2-0.

The sharp-angled slider serve, particularly on the deuce side, was a Wozniacki weapon she repeatedly used to dislodge Williams from the baseline. Fending off a break point, Wozniacki consolidated collecting her sixth of the last seven games extending her lead to 3-0.

The physicality of the rallies, including a 25-shot exchange Wozniacki won with her legs and desire, drained Williams who was hitting flatter drives in an effort to abbreviate points. Flying a forehand long, Williams dropped serve again as Wozniacki widened the gap to 4-0.

Sliding her seventh ace for game point, Wozniacki whipped another ace down the middle and stood one game from the title.

It would not come easy.

The fifth seed held to avoid the bagel and force a red-hot Wozniacki to serve out the championship.

Tension spiked as Wozniacki fell into a double break point hole then paused to gripe to chair umpire Marija Čičak about a fan making noise as she started her service motion.

Reading those signs of skittishness, Williams converted her second break point for her second straight game.

An unsettled Wozniacki called out her father and coach for a consultation.

A recharged Williams hooked a crosscourt forehand then streamed forward for a jolting forehand swing volley closing the gap to 5-3.

Serving for the championship for the second time, Wozniacki opened with her best serve—the slider out wide—but was soon pushed back by the American.

Grunting with exertion, Williams rapped a forehand down the line for break point. Wozniacki moved forward for a net cord and dug out a challenging low volley only to see a sprinting Williams spring a stirring crosscourt pass breaking for the second time in a row to get back on serve.

The crowd erupted at that pass, while Williams calmly walked to her court-side seat knowing there was still more work to be done.

Hanging tough, Wozniacki measured a deep forehand drawing the error for championship point. Williams denied with a bold forward rush. Dragging another forehand error, Wozniacki gained a second championship point.

In a scrambling, athletic point, Wozniacki stepped into the court and spun the backhand pass down the line closing her 27th-and biggest—career title with a wild finish to a one hour, 29-minute final.

"After being up five-love that second set I just saw the games kind of running by and the balls flying by I knew Venus had stepped it up," Wozniacki said. "I was just praying she was gonna make some errors in the end and get lucky.

"I got lucky today and yeah, I’ll take it. To stand here an win this title means a lot to me." 


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