Singapore: Serena Williams awoke on Thursday dreading playing tennis. By the end of the day, her doubts were defeated and she was still in the running for a third straight WTA Finals crown.
Following the worst beating of her professional career on Wednesday, when she won only two games against Simona Halep, it took hours of cajoling and encouragement from coach Patrick Mouratoglou to get Williams in the right frame of mind for her last round-robin contest against Eugenie Bouchard.
Whatever he said worked, as she routed Bouchard 6-1, 6-1. "I was feeling mighty low," Williams said. "I was able to feed off his belief. I know that sounds weird, even though I've won so many titles, I still at some point feel like, `Oh gosh, maybe I might not be able to do this or maybe I might not be able to do that?'
"I started to believe that maybe I could come play another match. I wasn't quite sure that I could. "I definitely don't think that I would have been able to survive today if it wasn't for Patrick."
Williams improved her record to 2-1, and will have to wait until Friday's match between Halep and Ana Ivanovic to know if she is through to the semifinals. Williams will make the final four unless Ivanovic beats Halep in straight sets. Halep is guaranteed of a semifinal berth.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the other group remains uncertain, with none of the four players qualified for the semis, and none eliminated from contention. Petra Kvitova beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-2, further eroding the Russian player's hopes of claiming the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Sharapova, who needs to win the title and rely on Williams not reaching the final if she is to bump the American from the top spot, fell to a 0-2 record while Kvitova is 1-1.
In order for Sharapova to progress to the semis, she will need to win her last match against Agnieszka Radwanska and rely on Caroline Wozniacki beating Kvitova, and have both matches decided in straight sets.
Williams was philosophical about whether she will make the semis. "If I wanted to win and be a part of the event, I should have won my match yesterday or should have done better," Williams said. "If I don't qualify, I'll be sad, but it wasn't my year. I'm not going to fall out and die."
She revealed she received a written apology from Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpischev for offensive comments in which he called her and sister Venus the "Williams brothers," and said they were "scary" to look at.
"He has reached out to apologize to both myself and my sister," Williams said, adding, "It was written. No, I did not speak to him." Tarpischev was fined $25,000 and suspended from the WTA tour for a year for the comments on a Russian TV show.
Bouchard had no doubt she met the best player in the world on court. "I got my butt kicked, but I had fun," the Wimbledon runner-up said. "It actually motivates me to get better."
Sharapova, who lost the Wimbledon final to Kvitova in 2011, had beaten the Czech left-hander in their past five meetings and started brightly by winning the opening two games. But Kvitova took over from there, winning 11 of the next 12.
Like Williams, Kvitova was feeling at a low ebb after her opening loss to Radwanska, and took an unusual approach to freshen up. "When I lost against Aga ... I was so tired and sick of tennis for a moment," Kvitova said. "So I didn't practice today at all, and I just really relaxed and cleaned my mind a little bit."
Earlier, Wozniacki moved closer to a place in the semis by beating Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 for her second win in the group stage. The first set contained some lengthy rallies that were punctuated by superb shot-making.
Radwanska ended up the loser but played a couple of extraordinary volley winners -- one picked up at her shoelaces and lifted diagonally over the net, and another leaping effort played with her back to the net.
"I'm like, `OK, you know what, that's just too good,"' Wozniacki said. "You can either get frustrated or laugh -- it's better to laugh."