New York: Serena Williams lay on the blue turf at Arthur Ashe Stadium: ecstatic, expressive, and massively relieved. The women’s final at the US Open, having looked early like one of the test-less runaways that Williams has had throughout this summer, had taken her to the bottomless brink and pulled her back.
|Serena Williams poses with the championship trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka
in women’s singles final of the US Open on Sunday
Now, two hours and 18 minutes after starting a grinding contest with Victoria Azarenka on Sunday evening in New York, Williams could finally join in with the happily ringing Ashe.
Williams’ fourth US Open title came minutes after she had been three points from defeat as Azarenka served, the young Belarusian ready to put an end to the disastrous run she has had against the American.
But Williams unlocked herself from the sudden lack of composure and shot-making ability she was stuck in during all of the second and most of the third set, breaking Azarenka on way to a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory.
It was a match whose highlights the WTA could’ve replaced its “Support Women’s Tennis” promo campaign running on the giant screens at the stadium with. Unluckily coinciding with some of the best men’s tennis has ever seen, the last few years have been a sad time for the ladies’ game.
The finals are often bland, top seeds fail to justify the number against their names and there is a complete absence of either sustained dominance or a viable rivalry.
Sunday’s delayed final was not pretty, considering its combined unforced error count of 73, but it was full of the uncertainty, tension and polarity title contests deserve. Shockingly, it was the first time the women’s title match at this tournament had gone to three sets since 1995.
Williams, at a surprising peak of her elongated career and not having dropped a single set in the tournament, matched her accurate, super-fast serving with nimble-footed court coverage and heavy ground strokes.
Azarenka, finally a worthy world No. 1 with a 32-2 record and four titles on hard courts this year before the final, quickly learned to be dogged in her returning and devastating in her baseline rallying.
Most important, Azarenka made sure that a predicted rout, especially after a 6-2 first set where Williams swung freely and at will, didn’t materialize. Creating drama out of thin air, she made the most of an out-of-focus Williams and broke her in the opening game of the second.
With the American suddenly sloppy in shot-making and slow in movement, Azarenka kept her service games clean and broke a second time to even the match at a set apiece.
The third had threatened to go the young Belarusian’s way, too, when she squeezed out an early break. Williams broke back, only to lose serve again, at love, while at 3-3 as Azarenka frustrated her with patient baseline defence.
But Azarenka, serving for the title at 5-4, blinked and made three unforced, unneeded errors to hand the advantage back again.
Williams held easily this time, and clawing at the sudden loss of confidence in her opponent, broke again to win the last four games of the set and her 15th Grand Slam title.
It was a just prize for those watching after Saturday’s tornado warning and late-evening storm threat that had forced USTA to evacuate the stadium and push the two singles finals a day ahead each.
It was the perfect one for Williams, who, after a first-round loss at the French Open, has now won the singles title at Wimbledon, two gold medals at the Olympics, and now this.
But the bubbling-over noise of Ashe, which Andre Agassi described during his US Open Court of Champions induction just before the match as between a “jet engine and a giant heartbeat,” was hollow for Azarenka.
Having come into the match with a 1-9 record against Williams, the 23-year-old was again stopped heartache distance away. “Being so close, it hurts deeply,” she said later. “To know you don’t have it. You’re close; you didn’t get it.”
The Belarusian does have a Grand Slam title this year from when she won in Melbourne, and if this tournament was any indication — she beat defending champion Sam Stosur and former world No.1 Maria Sharapova en route — certainly a heart for more. The start of a regular rivalry is probably too much to hope for, but the teasing taste of it from Azarenka and Williams will linger awhile.
I have no regrets: Azarenka
For Victoria Azarenka, there were no regrets, just satisfaction that she had produced her best in her gallant US Open final loss to Serena Williams, a player she described as the greatest of all time.
“I have no regrets,” the Belarusian said. “I felt like I gave it all there. Could it have gone my way? Probably, yes. But it didn’t. It really, really hurts. Those emotions come out and you feel sad, but it’s time to really realise what happened today. It was a great match. It was close, but not for me.”
“For me she’s the greatest player of all time,” Azarenka said. “She took the game to the next level. She makes me always make sure that I’m taking my game, my personality, my physical aspect to the next level. “Today I was close. I’m going to have, for sure, another opportunity to make something better. That's what I'm looking for.”
Azarenka said she was proud of how she fought back into the match.