In a battle of the world’s top two players, the US world number one took her tally of WTA titles to 59— including 17 Grand Slam triumphs.
She added a second trophy in 2014 to the one she lifted in Brisbane in January and joined Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert as the only women in the Open era to win the same title seven or more times.
“I was actually super-excited at the end,” said Williams, who already owned the most WTA titles in the combined men’s and women’s event but had shared the overall record of six trophies with Andre Agassi.
“Obviously I wanted to have the most titles here,” added Williams, who lives in Miami and first played the tournament as a 16-year-old.
“I guess that I’ve grown up coming to this tournament as a kid, watching so many players, and to be one of those players now is really, really awesome for me,” she said.
Williams’ ebullient celebration was a sharp contrast to her somnambulant start, during which Australian Open champion Li powered to a 5-2 lead with Williams surrendering a second service break with a double fault in the seventh game.
The seriousness of her situation seemed to wake Williams up. She won the next five games to take the set, saving a set point in the 10th game and hanging on to break Li in a 12th game that went to deuce six times.