Grunt … Victoria Azarenka returns the ball to Li Na during the WTA Championship tournament. Photo: AFP
Victoria Azarenka still had a tournament to finish when her year was guaranteed to end with membership of an exclusive 11-woman club whose alumni include champions Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
So the celebrations were on hold, even if the delight in a status managed by so few was immediate.
''If you look at the list of these people, it's kind of difficult to believe that a little girl from Belarus is on that list,'' said 23-year-old Azarenka after the round-robin defeat of Li Na that secured her semi-final place and her year-end No.1 ranking. ''But it's really [an] incredible achievement. When I started to play tennis I had this big picture in my head that I want to be there. Back then it's so far away. It's like pretty much touching the sky.
''I'm here sitting kind of in the sky so it's really incredible feeling. I don't think you realise that … once you maybe stop playing tennis, you know, when you're not there, you can fully appreciate what you have done. Living in the moment, I think you lose that sense of those great achievements.''
The achievement comes, as so many do, with an interesting backstory. While this year has ended so loftily, last year took a complex character to her lowest point: the February crisis moment that came after a three-set loss to Daniela Hantuchova in Doha. The world No.9 called home to her mother Alla in Minsk. Said that was it. No more tennis. Because tennis was no longer any fun.
''She told me, 'come home and have some rest - and don't be crazy about it,''' Azarenka has said. She needed some perspective, a better way of dealing with defeat. The wise counsel came from her grandmother, Nina Bondareva, who had lived through the Soviet years in Belarus, worked as a cleaner, experienced much harder times. And knew that on the catastrophe scale, losing a tennis match sat very low.
''Yeah, it's incredible that just [a] few thoughts and few perspectives will kind of change your vision of things and help you to improve not only as a player but as a personality to grow a little bit,'' Azarenka recalled in Istanbul last week.
''You have that moment when it clicks and you kind of have a better vision of where you have to head. So it's incredible. I'm really actually glad that it happened to me. It helped me to mature a little bit better and to open those doors for me to find and look for a better self in me. I think it just clicked when I had a real understanding of what I want to do, how I want to achieve things and how I want to work around it. So, yeah, it was pretty much just one day and that was it.''
Then, in January, the big Melbourne Park pay-off, Azarenka reaching her first grand slam final - and winning it 6-3, 6-0 against fellow shrieker Maria Sharapova.
Change is inevitable for most grand slam first-timers. In confidence. Self-belief. For Azarenka, it eased the pressure to succeed, and validated the sacrifices she had made by moving first to Spain and then to Arizona, away from her family, while still in her mid-teens. Little wonder there was a deep exhale.
''I felt like I was always playing [at a] pretty good level but didn't really quite make it to the top of the game,'' she said last week. ''When I won, I felt like I achieved my potential a little bit better, and it kind of set up a whole new opportunity for goals for me.
''It gave a great belief in knowing that I can go to those further stages, and later on it just helps in the key moments to be confident in yourself, to know that you know what to do. So it gave me also a lot of opportunity to kind of discover myself better in those stages, because it was for me my first final … I think I learned a lot from that that helped me to kind of grow as a player during the year as well.''
She appears to have found the right balance with coach Sam Sumyk, for while she stresses her relaxed nature away from the court, on it she is in many ways as she has always been. ''Maybe I just manage my bad emotions better, but I'm always intense,'' Azarenka says. ''You see me on the practice, I'm like a Duracell bunny all the time. So actually, Sam, my coach, tells me I have to slow down a little bit because I'm so energetic and I never stop and he's very slow. So I think we make a perfect match.''
Yet if close observers still regard Azarenka as an insecure and at-times-difficult character, she is also direct and forthright, explaining her early PR difficulties as a product of shyness and inexperience. ''Nobody really educated me how to speak to media. I started to be more myself and started to show my real personality, which I think helps. I don't try to be a creative image of somebody. I'm just trying to be myself now.''
And why not? If Serena Williams at her best is still the best there is, then Azarenka will finish 2012 with one major among at least six titles and two Olympic medals. When the year is over, the party will begin. ''It's a dream come true, and I just want to play my last matches, and after that I can enjoy this moment more,'' she said before this morning's semi-final against Sharapova.
Yet one thing she is yet to do is watch a replay of the US Open final she lost to Williams after serving for the title at 5-3 in the third set. A great year was not a perfect one. ''Definitely one day I'll look at it,'' she said. ''My coach, for sure, is going to watch it.
''I might watch some parts and hopefully will improve from there because I feel like these kind of things can make you wanna kill yourself, can make you wanna stop, quit, whatever. But I take it as a thing to make me better and we'll see how I succeed.''