By Erin Bruehl
WHAT HAPPENED: Serena Williams is already regarded as one of the greatest women’s players in history, with arguably the greatest serve of all-time to go with a tremendous fight, determination and power ground strokes that few other women can match.
And on a night where her serve was not at its best, it was her fight and determination that powered her through errors, wind and Victoria Azarenka, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1, in two hours and 45 minutes for her fifth career US Open title and 17th major championship. It is her second Grand Slam title of the year, to go with her French Open crown, and even though she had 16 Slams under her belt coming to New York, this title means just as much as all the others – and makes her season all the better.
“It means a lot to me, this trophy, and every single trophy that I have," she said following her victory. "It makes me feel that I'm still fighting just to be a part of this fabulous sport. I was so focused these two and a half, three weeks really. I have just been so focused and just really kind of crazy where I'm not losing. What's unique is just the fact of finally reaching No. 5 at the Open, so that's pretty cool."
It was the longest US Open women’s final since 1980, and with the win, Serena earned the largest paycheck in women’s tennis history at $3.6 million – $2.6 million for her US Open win and an additional $1 million in bonus prize money for winning the Emirates Airline US Open Series Bonus Challenge this summer. She also improved her record in Grand Slam finals to an impressive 17-4, her record against Azarenka to 12-3 and put her one Grand Slam title shy of tying Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova’s haul of 18 majors.
“I felt almost disappointed with my year, to be honest," she said. "I won the French Open, but I wasn't happy with my performances in the other two Slams. I definitely feel a lot better with at least a second Grand Slam under my belt this year.”
Serena was far from her best on this night, uncharacteristically struggling to close out the match. She twice served for the championship in the second set, but fought back and continued to apply pressure to Azarenka’s service games in the third set as Azarenka’s forehand let her down late in the contest – a rematch of the women's three-set, 2012 final.
A two-time Australian Open champion, Azarenka felt she was a tougher player than last year’s final, and gave all the credit to the five-time champ for ultimately taking more advantage of opportunities down the stretch.
“She's a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. I know that feeling, too,” Azarenka said. “And when two people who want that feeling so bad meet, it's like a clash. And in the important moments is who is more brave, who is more consistent, or who takes more risk. And with somebody like Serena you got to take risk. She really made it happen. I felt like I had opportunities in the first set as well. I fought as hard as I could. So that's what, is important for me that I lost to a great champion, but I still gonna have my head up.”
As she noted, Azarenka had her chances, including two break points in the first set, on Serena's serve at 5-4. But she will also be pleased with her mettle.
After taking the last three games to win the first set, Serena broke Azarenka in her opening service game of the second set en route to a 4-1 lead. But Azarenka kept fighting, working her way back in the set and breaking Serena twice when she served for the match to force a tiebreak. Serena took three leads in the tiebreak, but the errors creeped back in and Azarenka, who appeared calm and focused, stole the set, 8-6, in the breaker.
“I obviously would have preferred to close it out in straight sets,” Serena said. “But going against a great opponent like Victoria, you have to be able to realize that that can happen, and you have to keep fighting for everything.”
Serena continued to struggle with unforced errors in the third, but so did Azarenka, especially on her forehand side, as Serena continued to apply pressure in her return games. It was Serena who struck first, taking the break and a 3-1 lead. She never looked back from there, closing out the match when Azarenka returned a backhand long.
WHAT IT MEANS: With each win, Serena Williams continues to etch her place in history. Her 17 major titles put her just one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time list. Her 2013 US Open win also is her 55th career title, tying her for seventh most in the Open era with Lindsay Davenport and Virginia Wade. At 31 years, 348 days, Serena is the oldest US Open champion since Margaret duPont in 1950 and her fifth US Open title ties her with Steffi Graf for the second-most US Open titles in history behind Evert's six.
“I feel great. I have never felt better," Serena said. "I feel really fit. I can play a tournament like this, singles, doubles, with tough, tough schedules. I haven't felt like this in a number of years. I'm excited about the possibilities.”
QUESTION: Where do you think Serena ranks among the greatest players of all time?