ISTANBUL - Serena Williams completed her sensational 2012 comeback by easing to a 6-4, 6-3 win over Maria Sharapova for a third WTA Championships title on Sunday.
The 31-year-old's victory came at the end of a spectacular year in which she also collected the Wimbledon, Olympic and US Open titles.
"Now I have won I can be honest -- I really wanted to win this title, and I put pressure on myself (to do so)," said Williams, whose career head-to-head record over Sharapova now stands at 10-2.
"I wanted it so bad, I didn't want to say it. I had such a good year, it really was important to me to win, and this title in particular.
"Maria played really well and she's improved so much, which is amazing for a player of her stature and calibre. But I played solid, and in the last game of the match I played really well."
Williams, who has battled back to the top of her game after battling injury and a life-threatening illness, said 2012 was just as good as 2002 and 2003 when she completed the "Serena Slam" of all four Grand Slams.
"It's awesome. To come back after being in the hospital, I feel so happy whether I win or lose," said the American veteran.
French Open champion Sharapova praised Williams, a player she hasn't beaten for over eight years.
"She had another great serving day against me -- I don't think I even had a break point," said the Russian.
"Maybe it was partly me not doing enough on the returns and partly she was serving well -- a few moments when it was 30-all or 15-all, I didn't get a good return in.
"But that's one of the reasons she's such a great champion and has had a tremendous amount of success in her career."
The third-seeded Williams's weight of shot, reliability of serve, and undiminished motivation enabled her to apply constant pressure.
As early as the fifth game, when she broke Sharapova's serve for the first time, she looked the likely winner.
Williams also saved her best performance of the week for Sharapova and history may have played a part in that.
Since the year in which a 17-year-old Sharapova shocked Serena in the 2004 Wimbledon final, the Russian has not been able to repeat the win in eight attempts. After breaking for 3-2, consolidating for 4-2, and holding on to that advantage to close out the first set, she was relentless.
At least it did not take Sharapova long to do better than last time when she managed just one game in the Olympics final.
She looked keen to atone for that, so there was an edge to the encounter, over and above that of a big final.
Sharapova also tried hard to force the issue with her ground strokes, taking risks in the process.
She clung to her service games to reach 3-4 despite two break points against her in that game, varied her angles well, and covered the court better than she ever did, but the rewards were modest.
That was partly because the biggest difference between them was not just the number of clean winners that Serena could make with her heavier hitting. A more significant difference was in their serving.
Not that Sharapova struggled with double faults, occasionally a blight in recent years.
Instead it was that her second delivery was more attackable than Williams's. And Williams missed few chances to reveal that.
Crucially, she did so in the opening game of the second set, and having gained an early break which felt like a statement, never looked likely to relinquish it.
Sharapova fought with typical courage, but in the final game she found that her first delivery, as well as her second, was coming in for some ferocious treatment, and she dropped serve for a third time.
Williams rounded it all off with a rocketing forehand return from a respectable first serve, that brought a jet engine roar from 15,000 throats.
She celebrated with delighted hops and a raised arm, which indicated that, even after all these years, it meant as much to her as ever.
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