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Serena Williams proved once again why she is world number one by winning the WTA Miami event for the seventh time, another record for the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

The history books give you final scores, but omit the details which make sport so intriguing to follow.  It was, in fact, the dogged manner in which she won the event that proved why she is the greatest ever competitor.

In the semi-final, she started slowly, a habit of hers of late, but Sharapova was in blistering form, throwing Serena off-balance with a mixture of deep and acute angles which earned her a 4-1 lead in the first set.  By then, Serena was rattled and her intensity rose to allow her to reel off the next five games to clinch the first set.  Sharapova, in true competitive spirit, refused to be despondent and was a break up in the second set.  But Serena pulled it all back to win 6-4, 6-3 and extend her winning streak against Sharapova to 15.

The final was a heart-breaker for Li Na.  She raced to a 5-2 lead in the first set thanks to some perfectly placed and powerful groundstrokes as well as some cheeky chip-and-charges to the net.  Li twice served for the first set and had set point at 5-4 which was swiped from her by a beautiful backhand down-the-line from Serena.  That must have broken Li’s spirit, with Serena rolling out a 7-5, 6-1 winner.

Sharapova is definitely getting closer to beating Serena.  She has been trying to move forward, her groundstrokes and movement are impeccable, but for a girl of 6’2’’, she doesn’t utilise her height on serve and her technique invariably lets her down. Why hasn’t this been addressed by Groeneveld yet?  It’s no longer a question of finding consistency; I honestly think her technique has to change.  It doesn’t take a genius to realise that she’s still not reaching up enough for the ball which drops too low from the toss and, hence, she connects too late.  That’s why many of her double faults hit the net.

For Li, it’s a question of mind over matter.  Her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, has fine-tuned many aspects of her game, most notably the serve, and has also helped her with patience and shot choice.  But what really happened against Serena?  We all know that when Serena decides to take it up a level, she is unstoppable.  But Li Na had chances to close out the first set.  The belief must have begun to fade having, perhaps, been lured into a false sense of security as Serena struggled to find a first serve and made too many unforced errors initially.

The clay-court season is now looming where Serena has many points to defend having triumphed in Charleston, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros last year.  Will those four events prove too many for her to defend? Stay tuned…

The next event is Charleston, from March 31st to April 6th.

Pundit Arena, Tina McCarthy.

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