Born 17 years apart, there was more than just age that separated Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko as they took the Singapore Indoor Stadium court yesterday.
Former world No. 1 Williams has 49 singles titles including seven Grand Slams, amassed over 19 years starting from 1998, while 20-year-old Ostapenko's two career titles were won only this year.
Yet for three hours and 13 minutes yesterday, the gap between both women - the youngest and oldest competitors at this year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore - almost did not seem to matter.
They hit a total of 55 winners, served a combined 23 double faults and exchanged 20 breaks of serve, before Williams eventually prevailed 7-5, 6-7(3), 7-5.
Yesterday's thriller was the first three-set match of this year's edition of the US$7 million (S$9.5 million) season-ending tournament presented by SC Global. Both women were seeking their first wins of the tournament, having lost their first matches on Sunday.
A searing backhand cross-court - her 26th winner of the match - sealed the win for world No. 5 Williams as the crowd cheered.
"Sometimes we just need some luck. I don't know if there was luck, I just needed to work for every point," she said in the on-court interview. "Everyone is playing really well here and I'm just lucky to get through tonight.
11 Jelena Ostapenko had 11 more unforced errors than her conqueror yesterday, Venus Williams.
"It's not easy to lose the first match. You have to fight, what else can you do except try to fight and live another day.
"Honestly, it was all credit to her, she came up with a lot of shots that you can't prepare for and that's why she's here in this tournament - she has a lot of talent and I was just happy to win that last point."
It was Williams' third match point of a contest which saw both players furiously pounding the ball from baseline to baseline over three tight and hard-fought sets.
A roller-coaster first set saw both players open with breaks of serve, with seventh-ranked Ostapenko consolidating the break early for a 5-3 lead. But Williams rallied to win six straight games en route to taking the first set and a 2-0 advantage in the second set.
Ostapenko, in her maiden WTA Finals, broke back with a backhand winner and held serve to draw level. At 4-5 down and serving to stay in the match, a spectator led a chant of "Let's go, Venus", but the Latvian had other ideas.
She saved a match point at 30-40, won the next point with a backhand winner that landed on the line, and pumped her fist in triumph as a Williams forehand found the net. Momentum on her side, Ostapenko won the tie-break 7-3 to force a third set.
Both players were unable to hold serve in the third set but Ostapenko's serve proved to be her downfall. The French Open champion, who led the Tour in double faults entering the WTA Finals (359), served eight double faults in the last set, and gesticulated wildly as her unforced errors mounted.
Said Ostapenko, who hit 40 unforced errors to Williams' 29: "I was just a little bit tight in some moments. When I had to serve, I didn't really serve (well)."
Whether Williams qualifies for the semi-finals depends on her next match against world No. 2 Garbine Muguruza tomorrow. The Spaniard lost 2-6, 2-6 to world No. 3 Karolina Pliskova in the other match yesterday. Pliskova, who had beaten Williams, advances as the White Group winner, while Ostapenko is out of the WTA Finals.