For all the disadvantages of age, Williams has built up an incredible sense of self. She lives minute-to-minute, controls her emotions and gets through matches with experience. With all the success she’s racked up during her career, one could say Williams is playing with house money.
“I didn't have any fear at all,” Williams said after dispatching Ana Ivanovic, 6-4, 6-4, in the opening WTA Finals match. "I really don't feel like I have anything to lose at this point."
Williams entered the WTA Finals seeking to defend her title while sealing the year-end No. 1 ranking. Some players would say those are pretty big stakes. But Serena entered the tournament on a wonky knee and wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to play. And thus, she feels like she’s using some of that house money to make a bid for a big trophy haul.
"I just started practicing on Monday, so I feel like I just got to do what I got to do and do the best that I can," she said. "I really can't do anymore."
Williams played only four matches between her US Open victory and sealing her 16th straight WTA Finals victory. She practiced hard throughout the week, shedding a knee brace after the first day.
"I felt the knee a little bit, but compared to what it was in Beijing, it feels so much better. I’m getting better, which is great. Just have to keep doing my program so by end of the week, hopefully - if I'm here - I'll still be getting better."
That is a chilling thought for the rest of the Red Group. Simona Halep looked razor sharp in dispatching Genie Bouchard, 6-2, 6-3, but a Williams on the mend doesn’t auger well for the two upstarts that remain on her round-robin schedule.
"She was putting a lot of pressure on my serve," Ivanovic said. "She served really well today I thought and created more pressure on my service game."
Apparently the week of practice helped put Williams’ serve back in order.
"I was pleased with my serve," she said. "Ana is a very aggressive returner and I went really hard at my second serve. Didn’t push them. Playing against her, she’ll hit a winner, so I had to go for a lot. I hit a few double faults in the first few games, but after that I was pretty clean - even though I was hitting some pretty aggressive serves."
Ivanovic admitted to rushing her serves as the match wore on.
"I didn't feel my rhythm, so I was trying to make more first serves. In the second set, I did that, but against Serena sometimes that’s not good enough and it wasn’t good enough today," Ivanovic said.