By Fernie Ruano Jr.
“I think we’re going to rename this tournament the Serena Williams Tournament.”
ESPN tennis analyst Mary Joe Fernandez ignited a comedic roar from the 13,897 tennis fans in attendance on Stadium Court at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park Saturday afternoon by suggesting the Key Biscayne tournament should have the women’s world No. 1 name in it. And it’s difficult to see how anyone could argue if tournament officials decided to permanently engrave “Serena” on the crystal.
With gray skies hovering over a rowdy crowd showering support for Williams from start to finish, the world No. 1 defeated a valiant No. 2 Li Na 7-5. 6-1 in the women’s championship match of the 2014 Sony Open, capturing a tournament-record seventh title, just a year after surpassing Steffi Graff as the all-time women’s titlist in Key Biscayne.
“Yeah, it was really important (to win),” said Williams, who improved to 67-7 all-time in 14 career Key Biscayne appearances and has never suffered a loss before the 4th round. Williams is now 11-1 against Li, including 5 straight wins on hard court.
In search of her 9th career title and first in Key Biscayne, Li started strong racing out to a 3-1 and then 5-2 lead in the first set before Williams mounted a furious rally. Even with the defeat, Li still has the most wins on the tour so far this year (21), as well as collecting her first Australian Open title in January. Although disappointed, Li said she was happy with how she played. "I don't think I was playing bad. So, yeah, maybe she just start (playing) a little bit better after 5‑2 down. I mean, really nothing to say. I don't think today I was doing like a wrong game plan or I was play totally wrong. I think it was a pretty good match," she said.
“She played real well, so I was like, Oh God if I can just hang in there,” said Williams, who is 59-17 in tournament finals, and ran her record to 15-2 in 2014. Still, taking home her record seventh title was not easy, especially in the first set when 3 double faults helped put her in an early hole. But Williams would again prove a bit too strong for Li, who looked to be in control at 3-1 and 5-2. But that’s when Serena did what she’s done so many times before and thanks the crowd for getting her going.
"This crowd is amazing. Like I said, I have so many friends here, I have so many fans here, and I love, love, love playing, obviously I love playing in this crowd, and it just feels really, really good to play at home. For me, there is really no better feeling," she said.
Down 3-5, Williams took three straight points, including whipping two serves by Li, to hold in the ninth before breaking her opponent in a classic Game No. 10 in which both players traded five points – with Li actually serving for the set at 40-30 – only to have Williams hit a winner at the net, climbing back to 5-5.
Williams won 4 straight points to hold at 6-5, and started showing why she is regarded as perhaps the best women’s player ever to step on a tennis court. With Li serving to force a tiebreaker, Williams charged to a 40-0 lead, although Li rallied to get to deuce. Back and forth they went again, trading 12 points before Serena hit a return just inside the line for a winner to end the set in 73 minutes.
With 19 winners through the first game of the second set, Williams held serve to take a 1-0 lead. And she wasn’t done. Williams battled back to force deuce in the third game before firing a service point winner to take back the lead. Three minutes and a break later, Williams hit 4 straight winners to take a commanding 4-1 lead. The all-time Sony Open titleholder would not be denied, taking the next two games to collect the Butch Buchholz Trophy.
With the win, Williams broke the record of total Sony Open titles she shared with Andre Agassi on the men’s side. What did the No. 7 mean for Williams?
"I was actually super excited at the end, because I remember sitting here last year trying to get to six, you know, thinking, Okay, obviously I want seven but I don't want to put the pressure on myself to get to seven. Obviously I wanted to have the most titles here. I guess that I've grown up coming to this tournament as a kid, watching so many players, and to be one of those players now is really, really awesome for me."