Serena takes fifth U.S. title by sheer force

Posted Sunday, Sep. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The wind was fierce on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and Serena Williams tried to blow the house down.

For much of the 2-hour, 45-minute U.S. Open women’s final, Victoria Azarenka used her racket as a blockade, continually disallowing the four-time U.S. champion a fifth title.

Finally, after squandering a 7-5, 4-1 lead and twice failing to serve out the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set, Williams, the top seed and No. 1 player in the world, used all the gusto she could muster and bullied her way past the second-seeded Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1 to claim her second straight U.S. Open.

She also defeated Azarenka in the final last year.

With the win, Williams’ U.S. Open record stands at 72-9 since her first appearance here as a 16-year-old in 1998. This was her 17th victory in a major, leaving her just one win shy of the 18 majors held by both Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

By virtue of her win in the U.S. Open Series of summer hard-court tournaments, Williams earned a $1 million bonus on top of her $2.6 million in prize money.

With the players’ gauzy skirts flying skyward in the breeze and Azarenka’s long braid flopping behind her head, the on-court conditions at times became a third player in the match.

Struggling to keep the ball in the court, both players traded breaks in the first two games of the match. Azarenka stood two points from the first set with Williams serving at 4-5 but Williams hit a second-service ace to save the game.

In all, the 31-year-old American served nine aces in the match, including three in one game to go up 4-1 in the third. One of those was a tournament-leading 126 mph.

“From the first point, the tension, the battle, the determination, it was raising kind of like boiling the water or something,” said Azarenka, who has lost to Williams eight times in the majors and has beaten her just three times in 16 meetings. “It felt like every point it was rising the level.”

Williams went on a five-game winning streak to end the first set and begin the second and, at that point, it looked likely that she would win her seventh consecutive straight-set match and second major of the year following her French Open championship in June.

Azarenka helped her out by hitting three double faults in one game to lose her serve and go down 4-1.

But between the wind, her own bout of nerves and the sheer will and tenacity of Azarenka — not to mention the midgame appearance of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, whose picture was suddenly flashed on the giant screen above the court, prompting huge cheers from the 23,584 fans in attendance — Williams failed to take advantage of a two-break lead in the second.

Azarenka was able to draw even at 5-5 and eventually force a tiebreaker. Azarenka won it on her second-set point when Williams pounded a backhand long.

“I think I got a little uptight, which probably wasn’t the best thing at that moment, “ said Williams, who upped her season record to 67-4 and her record in the majors to 17-4, including five Australian, two French and five Wimbledon titles to add to her now five U.S. championships.

“So I just had to relax and do the right things, which I did at the end.”

With the constant breeze still holding some balls in and pushing others just out, Williams used brute force to keep Azarenka at bay in the third.

Another couple of costly double faults — the Belarrusian had a total of seven in the match, all at inconvenient times — allowed Williams to break serve and go up 3-1 in the third.

She never looked back, reeling off the next three games and winning on her second match point when Azarenka sent a backhand return deep beyond the baseline.

All that was left was Williams’ now-all-too-familiar victory leap in the air.

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