NEW YORK — Fussing with her skirt and flubbing her shots, Serena Williams was troubled in the U.S. Open final by the swirling breeze and the strong play of Victoria Azarenka.
After one early miss, Williams declared, “I can’t play in this wind.” After blowing a big lead and dropping the second set, Williams chucked her racket toward the sideline, and it bounced back onto the court.
In the end, Williams pulled herself together, as she usually does when it matters the most. Facing her only test of the past two weeks, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame No. 2 Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday for a fifth championship at Flushing Meadows and second in a row.
Williams raised her Grand Slam singles title count to 17, the sixth-most in history and one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Williams collected a $3.6 million prize, including a $1 million bonus for producing the best results during the North American summer hard-court circuit leading up to the U.S. Open.
“She’s a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. She knows what it takes to get there. I know that feeling, too. And when two people who want that feeling so bad meet, it’s like a clash,” Azarenka said, pounding her fists together.
Helped by nine aces, one at 126 mph, Williams improved to 67-4 with a career-high nine titles in 2013. Since a first-round exit at the 2012 French Open, she is 98-5 with 14 titles, winning four of the past six Grand Slam tournaments.
“Vika’s such a great opponent, such a great fighter,” said Williams, who turns 32 on Sept. 26, “and that’s why she’s been able to win multiple Grand Slams. That’s why it was never over until match point.”
Yes, this one did not come easily, even though it appeared to be nearly over when Williams went ahead by two breaks at 4-1 in the second set. Williams served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 — only to have the gutsy Azarenka break each time.