ISTANBUL — After smacking her 40th and final winner of the match on a forehand service return on championship point, Serena Williams clenched her left fist, then punched the air with her right. She then skipped to the net as winner of the WTA Championships for the third time, having defeated Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-3, in the final Sunday. After the two shook hands, Williams turned and waved to the crowd on all sides of the sold-out Sinan Erdem Arena, a crowd that brought a level of noise and enthusiasm to the championships far exceeding previous events.
“Now that I can be honest, I really wanted to win and win this title and put a little pressure on myself,” Williams said in her postmatch news conference. “Yeah, I wanted it so bad, but I didn’t want to say it. I’m really excited that I was able to win it.”
Williams added: “I was like a heavy favorite going in to win this title, so for me it was really important. I mean, for my own sanity, so to say. I really wanted it, even though I didn’t need it. Like I don’t think I needed to do anything else this year — or any other year — but I really wanted to end on a good note.”
Notes do not come much better than the one struck in the final. Williams had only 14 unforced errors and did not allow Sharapova a break-point opportunity.
In the wake of her struggles on the return game — she had been able to return only 52 percent of Williams’s serves — Sharapova was asked if Williams’s service motion was difficult to read.
“I mean, if I didn’t have a break point, there is your answer,” she said, laughing.
Still, Sharapova’s performance was far more competitive than the 6-0, 6-1 humiliation she had suffered in the gold medal women’s singles match of the London Olympics in August, and closer also than her two losses to Williams before that, both by 6-1, 6-3 scores.
Perhaps annoyed with how close the first set had been, Williams smacked her left thigh agitatedly as she readied herself to return serve at the start of the second set. Six points later, she broke Sharapova’s serve for a second time. Her third and final break came in the last game.
Williams finished her season with a record of 58-4 and has lost only one of 32 matches since being beaten by No. 111 Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open in May, a run that included titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the United States Open.
At the Olympics, the Open and these championships, she lost a combined total of one set.
“I always said that if I’m playing well and I’m doing everything right, you know, it’s really difficult to beat me,” Williams said when asked if she was invincible when at her best. “I still believe that, which is great that I still can kind of play that way. You know, I feel like there are ways for me to improve, but I feel like it’s — I think it’s a true statement — without trying to sound full of myself or anything.”
The final came at a moment of uncertainty for the WTA Tour.
It was the last WTA match to be broadcast on the Eurosport family of networks, a tour partner of 14 years.
These championships were also the last with Sony Mobile as a major sponsor of the tour; the company previously downgraded its partnership from its role as title sponsor.
The tour is also looking for a host for the championships after Istanbul’s contract expires in 2013. The four finalist cities for 2014 are Mexico City; Singapore; Kazan, Russia; and Tianjin, China.
But as long as Williams is committed and winning, the WTA still has perhaps its most important asset, a notion that the WTA chief executive, Stacey Allaster, acknowledged in her annual State of the WTA address Sunday afternoon.
“She is a gift to us in women’s tennis,” Allaster said.
In the doubles final, which preceded the singles final, the Russian Olympic bronze medalist pair of Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova defeated the Czech silver medalist pair of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, 6-1, 6-4.
article by Ben Rothenberg via nytimes.com