Serena Williams Lifts the Trophy for Fifth Time
As it turned out, after three sets and 2 hours 45 minutes of territorial tennis, Serena Williams really could play in the wind, just as she has played and prevailed in so many conditions and circumstances through the years.
With her 32nd birthday approaching, Williams is in increasingly rare company as the major titles continue to pile up. And although she certainly wobbled in Sunday night’s United States Open final, and althoughVictoria Azarenka certainly applied plenty of intense pressure, there was ultimately no depriving Williams of another major celebration on a court where she has experienced mixed emotions through the years.
Her 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 victory gave her a fifth United States Open singles title and a 17th Grand Slam singles title. It also underscored her dominance at the top of the women’s game.
Azarenka had defeated Williams in two of their last three matches and, like Williams, came into this final with a Grand Slam singles title this season after winning the Australian Open.
But Williams, despite twice failing to serve out the match in the second set and blowing a 4-1 lead, is now the only woman to win two Grand Slam singles titles this year. She also holds a 13-3 edge in her series with Azarenka, the closest player she has to a rival in the women’s game at the moment.
When it ended with a missed Azarenka return, Williams did five straight jumps along the baseline and then continued to exult after embracing Azarenka at the net.
As Williams shouted, shouted some more and thrust both powerful arms into the air, Azarenka sat in her chair courtside and cried into a towel.
“I gave it all again this year,” Azarenka said in her postmatch remarks to the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “We showed our hearts. We gave it everything we got, but well-deserved and congratulations, Serena.”
Azarenka, the aggressive 24-year-old from Belarus who spent several years living and training in the United States, also came back to force a third set in last year’s Open final before Williams prevailed in a classic match, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
This match did not hit as many high notes, but it still produced a memorable soundtrack: shrieks, growls and grunts, as well as appreciative roars from the crowd, which was treated to the rare sight of a young woman fully prepared to match Williams’s intensity.
“Vika’s such a great opponent, such a great fighter,” Williams said.
But there was another opponent involved on Sunday: the gusting, swirling wind that was even more of a factor than usual at Ashe Stadium.
Both players were repeatedly forced to adjust their ground strokes at the last moment, catch their service tosses and attempt with varying degrees of success to remain calm.
“I can’t play in this wind,” Williams said to her team in the players box in the first set.
Her first-serve percentage was below 50 percent for much of the first set, but she stabilized when serving at 4-5, shrugging off double faults and a foot fault and plenty of brilliant backhands from Azarenka.
She ended up reeling off five games in a row and taking command of the match, only to lose command twice late in the second set.
She failed to serve for the title at 5-4 and again at 6-5, double-faulting into the net to allow Azarenka the chance to play a tiebreaker, which she proceeded to win.
But with the match now even, Azarenka could not sustain the quality or, more surprisingly, the urgency. Williams broke her in the fourth game and the sixth game, and this time she did not falter when she served for the title at 5-1.
She is now just one Grand Slam singles title behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who both have 18 and rank fourth on the career list. Evert said Sunday night that she believes Williams is fully capable of reaching 22, which would tie her with Steffi Graf for second behind Margaret Court’s record, 24.
But what mattered most on Sunday night was this victory, this final. A less resilient champion might have continued to crumble after collapsing in the second set. Instead, Williams exhaled and willed herself into a more peaceful place: one where neither Azarenka nor the wind could knock her down.