Serena shows champion's mentality
In Portland, Oregon, lives Dan McLaughlin, a 35-year-old American who quit his day-job four years ago in 2010, to embark on a journey in search of sporting excellence.
The former photographer is some 4,400 practice-hours short of the mythical 10,000-hour mark that many believe will see the creation of an expert.
He picked golf as his vehicle to test human potential, and is eyeing a US PGA Tour debut at the Heritage event in 2018.
But human potential for expertise isn't exactly champion potential, is it?
While dedication may help shape a reliable forehand, mould a delicate chip shot, even craft a consistent, accurate thunderbolt drive, that isn't all champions are made of.
Just ask Simona Halep.
The 23-year-old Romanian was outclassed 6-3, 6-0 by world No. 1 Serena Williams in the singles final of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global last night, and this is a girl who started playing tennis at the age of four, decided to turn pro at 14, and is now ranked fourth in the world.
Halep's conversations are peppered with the words "practice", and "hard work", but she still came up short against Williams, whom she trounced 6-0, 6-2 in a group match just four days earlier.
As Williams showed, a champion is more than just a dogged athlete, drenched in sweat on the practice court and gym and more than just facing fears and learning how to lose.
It is all that, and more.
If Halep lacked anything, it is that elusive ability to get into a champion state of mind.
Williams stuttered early on in yesterday's final, sending forehands wide, even missing with a volley when she had the whole court to aim at.
But it all changed as the 33-year-old broke Halep's serve to level the score at 2-2 in the first set.
"I had to play more Serena-style tennis and just do what I do best: enforce myself," said Williams, and that she did.
Her groundstrokes became fiercer, her serves became faster, and she charged to the net purposefully and frequently, silencing both Halep and her chanting fans in the packed stands.
Lacking freshness after a long season, and running on a dodgy left knee, nothing could get to Williams, not even that round-robin loss to Halep - her worst defeat in 16 years.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right?" she said at her post-match press conference, with a sheepish grin.
She finished the match with aplomb, silencing Halep with that very bagel the Romanian inflicted on her at the start of the tourney, to end the year with US$2.05 million ($2.6m) in prize money, and three WTA Finals titles in a row, a feat last achieved by Monica Seles (1990-1992).
But there was no gloating in victory - only grace.
"It wasn't in my mind really at all about getting a bagel. The only thing I thought about was getting a win," said Williams. "(Halep) gave her all and that's all she could give today, I think she did a good job.
"But it was also good for me to lose that match (againt Halep in the round-robin), because now I know what to go home... and work on once pre-season starts."
The season had only ended, and Williams was already looking ahead to the next one.
"I'm so looking forward next year, I can't wait to get started again - it'll be fun," she said.
But there is another side to winning matches and dominating the field, that perhaps only champions understand.
"It's not about what you do and how you can win," said Williams. "It's about who you can inspire and what you can do to help people."
Her vanquished opponent has certainly been inspired.
"I will continue my way, hard work every day, to be a champion one day. But we will see if that will happen," she said.
"But I won't forget that I beat Serena this week."
Champions leave a legacy in the hearts of those they have touched, on the trophies they have won but, for a champion of Williams' ilk, there has to be more - and Singapore was witness to her greatness this week.
And to ensure that the name Serena Williams will forever be associated with Singapore, an orchid was named after her yesterday - a fitting tribute to a true champion.
- Serena Williams (x1) bt Simona Halep (x4) 6-3, 6-0
- Cara Black/Sania Mirza (x3) bt Hsieh Su-wei/Peng Shuai (x2) 6-1, 6-0
Strong support from both camps
LOYAL FANS: Nadhir Kadir (left) and his friends, who back Serena Williams, have been attending the event from morning till night.
LONG TREK: A group of more than 20 fans of Simona Halep travelled from Romania to cheer her on in Singapore. - TNP PHOTOS: BENJAMIN SEETOR
Almost every weekend, Nadhir Kadir and his buddies would indulge in football with the SportCares Foundation's Saturday Night Lights programme.
The past week, however, the 15-year-old and his friends have been captivated by a whole new ball game: Tennis.
They have been religiously attending the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
They even made placards for world No. 1 and defending champion Serena Williams, which read: "Go Queen Serena", and they didn't go unnoticed by the American.
"We have been supporting her since Day One of the competition, and we have been here from nine or 10 in the morning till night," said Nadhir.
"We admire her fighting spirit - she didn't give up in the semi-final even though she lost her temper."
His idol did not disappoint last night, as the 33-year-old Williams walloped Romania's Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 to win the US$6 million ($8.3m) season-ending tournament.
It was a different story for fans from the opposite camp.
Samara Stere and his group of more than 20 friends had travelled from Romania to Singapore to support Halep.
All week, the group wore white shirts with supportive messages for the French Open finalist and had been armed with their national flag and banners bearing their heroine's name.
Before the game, Stere was confident that Halep would triumph in the final, after the 23-year-old had beaten Williams 6-0, 6-2 earlier in the tournament.
It was not to be, but Stere said: "Serena cannot play on forever; she is already 33 while Simona is only 23.
"I have no doubt that Simona will eventually go on to become the world No. 1."