Williams Makes Major Climb at U.S. Open, Again Beating Azarenka

Top seed Serena Williams beat No. 2 Victoria Azarenka in a three-set U.S. Open final for the second straight year to close in on the career Grand Slam champions.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the men’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for the tennis season’s final major championship, will take the Arthur Ashe Stadium court at 5 p.m. today, each seeking to capture his second U.S. Open title.

With her 17th Grand Slam singles championship, Williams moved closer to the women’s pro-era record of 22 major titles held by Steffi Graf, and one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Margaret Court of Australia holds the record of 24 Grand Slam singles championships including the period when only amateurs could play.

“I have never felt better,” Williams, who turns 32 later this month, said last night after defeating Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1 at the National Tennis Center in New York for her fifth U.S. Open title. “I’m excited about the possibilities. I don’t know what can happen.”

The win tied Williams with Graf for the second-most U.S. Open victories in the professional era that began in 1968, one shy of Evert’s mark. Williams has won Wimbledon and the Australian Open five times each as well.

The triumph also tied Williams with Roger Federer, who has won 17 men’s majors and five U.S. Opens. Federer, the 32-year-old from Switzerland who exited the U.S. Open in the fourth round, last won a Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2012. Williams won that too, and has since added three more majors, including the French Open in June.

‘Almost Disappointed’

“I definitely feel a lot better with at least a second Grand Slam under my belt,” Williams said of her 2013 tally, having lost in the Australian Open quarterfinals and fourth round of Wimbledon. “I felt almost disappointed with my year.”

Williams, an American, last year twice came back from down a break in the third set to beat Belarusian Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the final, adding to her 2002, 2008 and 2009 championships in New York.

Both players struggled with the weather conditions yesterday afternoon as play began by dropping their initial service games. Williams appeared to adjust to the wind late in the set and won the final eight points, then broke Azarenka’s serve to open the second.

“The wind was unbelievable, and it just got worse and worse and never let up,” Williams said. “At this point you have to be able to play under any circumstances.”

Azarenka, 24, double faulted three times to put Williams up two service breaks at 4-1 in the second set. She worked her way back, breaking Williams’s serve in the next game and again when Williams served for the championship to even the set 5-5.

Couldn’t Finish

Williams broke Azarenka’s serve to move to 6-5 and again couldn’t finish the job, sending the second set to a tiebreaker with her fourth double fault of the day.

The tiebreaker was on serve at 4-5 when Williams netted a backhand, Azarenka getting her first set point and the defending champion slamming her racket to the ground in anger.

Williams evened the tiebreak at 6-6 when Azarenka hit a forehand into the net, prompting Williams to crouch down, close her eyes, curl her fists and yell “Come on!” The emotion didn’t help as Azarenka evened the match two points later when Williams’s backhand sailed long.

The players split the first two games of the third set before Williams won the final five. She hopped up and down several times, her racket held high. After hugging Azarenka she returned to the court and again yelled “Come on!” and “Yes!”

Azarenka hugged Williams, went to her chair and put her head in her towel as the champion shook her hips to the music blaring through the stadium.

Same Opponent

“She’s a champion, and she knows how to repeat that,” Azarenka said. “She knows what it takes to get there and I know that feeling too. When two people who want that feeling so bad meet, it’s like a clash.”

Williams became the first woman to win consecutive U.S. Open finals against the same opponent since Graf beat Monica Seles in 1995 and 1996.

Williams earned $3.6 million, including a $1 million bonus for taking the U.S. Open Series warm-up tournament title, bringing her career prize money to $51 million.

Having lost to Azarenka last month in the final in Cincinnati, Williams improved to 13-3 in their career meetings. She’s 67-4 in 2013 and has won four of the last six Grand Slams.

Injuries, Outbursts

The triumph further distances Williams from past injury and outbursts that defined her career almost as much as her victories.

After winning Wimbledon in July 2010, Williams said she cut her foot on a shard of glass in Germany and had surgery that month. She had a second operation in October, and then in March said she was being treated for a blood clot in her lung, which may have developed as a result of the surgeries. She missed the 2010 U.S. Open and the Australian and French Opens in 2011 because of the health issues.

At the 2011 U.S. Open, Williams said her emotions got the best of her when she verbally abused a chair umpire during a loss in the final to Samantha Stosur. She was fined $2,000 by the U.S. Tennis Association for the outburst, which occurred after she was penalized a point for yelling “Come on” while play continued after she thought she had hit a clean winner.

Williams was already on probation for berating a line judge after being called for a foot-fault during a loss to Kim Clijsters in a semifinal at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Today’s men’s final was scheduled for a Monday conclusion after weather delays delayed the championship contest in each of the past five years. Asked who she will be rooting for when the men take the court, Azarenka said: “Rafa convinced me to support him.”

“He was practicing with his shirt off,” she added, ending her news conference, and a long day, with a laugh.

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