By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki's cruise to the biggest win of her career turned into a desperate struggle before the Dane finally subdued Venus Williams 6-4 6-4 in the WTA Finals title showdown at an enthralled Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
The 27-year-old former world number one entered the contest having lost to the evergreen Williams seven times in as many matches but the resilient Dane served and retrieved brilliantly to emerge with a deserved victory after 88 minutes.
Wozniacki was flawless for an hour as she raced to a set and 5-0 lead but Williams is renowned for an insatiable desire to win and the 37-year-old reeled off four games in a row before her increasingly anxious opponent finally closed out the match.
"I felt like it was a little bit of an uphill battle, to be honest. I knew she was stepping it up, she had nothing to lose at that point, and she really went for it. Things were going in for her," Wozniacki told reporters.
"I just had to keep reminding myself that I'm still up and I'm the one who is leading here, and I'm the one who can close out this match right now."
The first three games were dominated by the server until the Dane began to find the corners of the court with her powerful backhand, fashioning the first break of the match with back-to-back winners off both flanks.
Williams was trying to get to the net at every opportunity and came forward to good effect in the next game, with a vicious cross-court backhand enabling her to break back immediately on her way to leveling the score at 3-3.
The American continued to be the aggressor but the Dane held on in the face of some brutal hitting and somehow forged her second break of the set with some exquisite deep groundstrokes to move within a game of taking the opener.
The American came roaring back once more, however, leaving the Dane looking on as a helpless spectator at a barrage of winners that put the high-class contest back on serve.
After working so hard to stay in touch, Williams would have been deeply frustrated to gift her opponent the set when the Dane was handed the third break in a row as the wayward American sent a string of forehands wide, long and into the net.
Wozniacki had seized the momentum and with her variation, depth of shot and complete lack of errors preventing Williams from grabbing any sort of foothold in the contest, the flying Dane raced into a 5-0 lead in 11 second-set minutes.
Needing to hold serve just to stay in the contest, Williams found her rhythm to prevent a dreaded 'bagel' and then secured her first break of the second set with some solid play against an opponent who was showing the first signs of getting tight.
Williams, meanwhile, now appeared relaxed and free, holding easily to heap more pressure on the Dane before stretching every muscle and sinew in her body to break once more in a thrilling ninth game to make it 5-4.
The crowd wanted more but Wozniacki was not prepared to comply with their demands, breaking again to seal victory on her second match point with a backhand winner down the line and tossing her racket in the air as she celebrated a stunning win.
"Yeah, you know, she played really well the whole match. You know, I played well parts of the match and tried my best," Williams, who won the event in 2008, said.
Wozniacki's triumph was her second of the season in eight finals after she successfully defended her Pan Pacific Open title in Tokyo last month. The Dane will rise three places to world number three in Monday's rankings.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)