Monday, September 9, 2013

Serena Williams Wins Her Fifth U.S. Open Title and 17th Grand Slam Tournament in Her Illustrious Career


Serena as Superwoman. Surprisingly graceful given the windy conditions. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The celebratory hop with a look to her box. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Serena jumps for joy on match point. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

Williams beats Azarenka for 5th US Open, 17th Slam

HOWARD FENDRICH (AP Tennis Writer) 14 minutes ago AP - Sports

NEW YORK (AP) -- Fussing with her skirt and flubbing her shots, Serena Williams was troubled in the U.S. Open final by the swirling air and the strong play of Victoria Azarenka.

After one 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, who turns 32 on Sept. 26, 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.

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,'' Williams said, ''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.

Still, Williams regrouped and regained control.

''In the third set, Serena really found a way to calm down and restart from zero and quickly erase what happened,'' said Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

This was a rematch of last year's final, also won by Williams in three sets, and two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka provided another challenge with her big swings off both wings.

''It is a tough loss, but to be in the final and play against the best player - who deserves to win today - it's incredible,'' said Azarenka, who is from Belarus. ''I gave it all today. We showed our hearts. We fought hard.''

Four times, Azarenka was only two points from taking the opening set. At one such moment, with Williams serving at deuce after a double-fault, she was called for a foot fault, erasing what would have been a 121 mph ace. There was another foot-fault call in the second set, too. They brought back memories of the American's loss to Kim Clijsters in the 2009 semifinals, when Williams was docked a point, and later fined, for a tirade against a line judge over a foot-fault call.

There was no such outburst directed at officials this time, although there was that racket toss. After the call in the match's 10th game, Williams simply put a hand to her face, composed herself, and won the point with a down-the-line backhand she celebrated with a fist pump, some foot stomping and a yell of ''Come on!''

Williams wound up holding there with a 104 mph ace, part of what seemed to be a match-altering stretch. She won five consecutive games and 16 of 18 points to take the first set and go up a break in the second.

''You could see she clicked,'' Mouratoglou said. ''She realized she was not aggressive enough. She was letting Vika dictate too much, and all of a sudden, things completely changed.''

Well, at least for a while.

Williams' lead grew to 4-1 in the second set, before Azarenka made things competitive again, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Azarenka is responsible for two of Williams' four losses this season. And entering Sunday, Azarenka was 31-1 on hard courts this season, and showed why for portions of the final, playing far better than she had in her preceding six matches in New York.

But she simply could not keep pace with Williams, who eventually adjusted to her opponent and the wind that topped 15 mph. Williams put aside her issues to finish with a 36-17 edge in winners.

At the outset, though, the breeze clearly bothered her as much as Azarenka did.

Williams caught service tosses. She grabbed at her skirt to try to stop it from flapping around. And, most importantly, she was thrown off by balls that danced oddly. Six of the first 16 points ended with unforced errors by Williams, which allowed Azarenka to go ahead 2-1.

Looking hesitant at times, Williams did not show the same dominance she had while dropping only 16 games during six straight-set victories through the semifinals. And after Williams did go ahead, Azarenka made things interesting with a hard-hitting comeback.

The first time Williams served for the championship, at 5-4, Azarenka hit a cross-court forehand winner for break point, then forced a backhand long. Williams came right back to break for a 6-5 edge. Given a second chance to serve it out, she double-faulted to get broken for the fourth time.

A year ago, they played the first three-set women's final in New York since 1995. And they went the distance again, a total of 2 hours, 45 minutes, because Azarenka was superior in the tiebreaker.

When it came time to close the deal yet again, Williams shined. She has six of the eight winners in the third set, forced Azarenka into 15 miscues, and soon enough, was hopping up and down after finishing with a service winner. Williams kept pumping her fist afterward, even while sipping from a water bottle.

Azarenka faltered late, the way she did when losing the last four games in the 2012 final. She hit two of her seven double-faults while getting broken to 3-1 in the third set, then could only watch as Williams hit a pair of aces in the next game.

On Sunday, with former President Bill Clinton among the announced crowd of 23,584 in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Williams' older sister Venus in a front-row seat, the fans were mostly cheering for the American.

''I definitely felt the love,'' Williams said, ''so thank you all so much for the support.''

She equaled Steffi Graf with five U.S. Open titles, one behind Evert's record of six in the Open era, which began in 1968. Williams never had won two consecutive U.S. Opens, but now she has, adding to the trophies she earned in New York in 1999 - at age 17 - then 2002 and 2008.

Those go alongside five from Wimbledon, five from the Australian Open, and two from the French Open, which she won this year.

Williams also became the first woman to surpass $9 million in prize money in a single season, while topping $50 million for her career.

Two Grand Slam titles, nine titles overall, recaptured No. 1 in February for the first time since 2010, and all at 31 years old. Take a bow. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Serena Williams wins 17th Grand Slam title Sunday at the U.S. Open
by Shane Bacon
Busted Racquet

Back in 1999, Serena Williams was a teenager at the U.S. Open with a ton of talent and absolutely no idea about legacy, history or what might happen 15 years from that finals defeat of Martina Hingis.

In 2013, Williams might have done enough to be considered the greatest champion in women's tennis history.

Serena took out No. 2 Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday to win her 17th Grand Slam title, an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the sheer longevity of her career as a Grand Slam champion and the fact that she will be 32-years-old by the time this month ends.

The win marks the fourth time in her career that Williams was able to defend a Grand Slam title, and the sixth time that Williams was able to win multiple Grand Slams in the same season after her French Open (edited by me) win earlier this year.

It wasn't an easy march for Serena, who looked like she would win this one in straight sets, serving for the match twice. Azarenka, who has been on the wrong side of this U.S. Open final for the second straight season, battled back with a ton of heart in that second set, with the two breaks and coming back in the tiebreaker to take the championship to three sets, but it was there Serena decided to show just how complete her game has become.

Williams' fastest serve on Sunday? Just 126 miles per hour, three miles per hour faster than Rafael Nadal notched in his semifinal win over Richard Gasquet.

Her third set stats when it looked like she was on the ropes and the momentum was in Azarenka's favor? An 85 percent first serve winning percentage, and facing just three break points, was able to convert two of them.

Williams now goes to the 2014 season with her eyes on a few different numbers. This win marks her 17th Grand Slam, putting her just one big win away from tying the 18 that both Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were able to win, and it looks like she won't need much of a tweak to her game to at least match that number next season.

For now, Serena ends this season on an incredibly high note, winning a tournament that looked a breeze until that second set on Sunday and proving everyone that age is simply not a factor in Serena's world.

Conquering the Wind, Williams Enters Rarefied Air With a 17th Title

September 8, 2013 
New York Times

As it turned out, after 2 hours 45 minutes of raw emotion and 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. Although she certainly wobbled in Sunday’s United States Open final — the longest recorded women’s Open final — and although Victoria Azarenka applied plenty of intense, next-generation pressure, there was ultimately no depriving Williams of another major celebration on a court where she has experienced plenty of disaster to go with her triumphs through the years.

This 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 place atop the women’s game.

She has had her most focused, consistently successful season, and yet Azarenka had defeated Williams in two of their last three matches. Each arrived in New York with one Grand Slam singles title in 2013.

This would be the tiebreaker, and although Williams cracked in the second set — losing a 4-1 lead and twice failing to serve out the match — she, not the ferociously ambitious Azarenka, is now the undisputed player of the year.

“I felt almost disappointed with my year, to be honest,” Williams said. “I felt like, yeah, I won the French Open, but I wasn’t happy with my performances in the other two Slams and not even making it to the quarterfinals of one. So I definitely feel a lot better with at least a second Grand Slam under my belt this year.”

There were other rewards, including prize money of $3.6 million, and a $1 million bonus for winning the United States Open Series, which put her at more than $50 million in career earnings.

“I think my dad got me into tennis because of the money, but me being naïve and silly, I never thought about it,” she said of her father, Richard Williams, long her primary coach along with her mother, Oracene Price. “I just thought I want to win. I wanted to do what Venus does.”

She now holds a 13-3 edge in her series with Azarenka, the closest she has to a rival in the women’s game at the moment.

“It’s good for Serena that Vika is there at this stage; good for both of them,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’s coach. “I think the best way to progress is to be pushed by someone.”

Azarenka has been pushing with increased success and resourcefulness — mixing in drop shots and forays to the net Sunday — but the bottom line is that Williams has won all eight of their Grand Slam matches.

When this one ended with a missed return, Williams jumped five times near the baseline and continued to exult after embracing Azarenka at the net. As Williams shouted and grinned and thrust her powerful arms into the air, Azarenka sat in her chair courtside and cried into a towel.

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

Azarenka, a marvelous counterpuncher who spent several years living and training in the United States, also rallied to force a third set in last year’s Open final before Williams won in a classic match, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.

This final did not hit as many high notes, but it still produced a memorable soundtrack: shrieks, growls, grunts and audible self-criticism, 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.

“What is really interesting is that Vika is not at all intimidated by her opponent,” said Sam Sumyk, Azarenka’s coach. “And that is good because we know Serena is very, very strong but also likes to use intimidation to gain a bit of the edge over her opponents, and it’s good to see that doesn’t work with Vika.”

But there was another obstacle involved Sunday: the gusting, swirling wind that was even more of a factor than usual in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“The wind was unbelievable today,” Williams said.

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.

“It wasn’t pleasant; it wasn’t nice,” Azarenka said. “Skirts were always, you know, lifting up. You had to pull it down all the time.”

For much of the early going, Azarenka seemed to treat the wind as an ally while Williams treated it as an enemy.

“I can’t play in this wind,” Williams said to her team in the players box in the first set after a game full of off-balance ground strokes.

Her first-serve percentage was below 50 percent for much of that opening set, but she stabilized when serving at 4-5, shrugging off double faults and a foot fault (she has quite a history with those in Ashe) as well as a flurry of high-quality two-handed backhands from Azarenka.

Williams would end up reeling off five games in a row and taking command of the match, only to surrender it by failing to serve out the match twice in that second set. She faltered 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.

With the match now even, Azarenka could not sustain the quality or, more surprisingly, the urgency. Williams broke her in the fourth and sixth games, and this time she did not crumble 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 each have 18 and rank fourth on the career list.

“I think she has a real sense of history right now, and she is defining her place in history,” Evert said on ESPN after the match.

Williams confessed that she had been thinking about No. 17 when she was two points from the match in the second set.

“That probably got me a little nervous, and I probably shouldn’t have been thinking about that,” she said.

Evert said that she believed Williams was fully capable of reaching 22 major singles titles, which would tie her with Steffi Graf for second behind Margaret Court’s record of 24.

But what mattered most Sunday night was this victory. A less resilient champion might have continued to fall apart after collapsing in the second set. Instead, Williams exhaled and willed herself into a more peaceful and less conflicted place: one where neither Azarenka nor the wind, that cursed wind, could knock her down.

Ben Rothenberg contributed reporting.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
U.S. Open Women’s Final: Serena Williams won her 5th U.S. Open title, and her 17th Grand Slam title overall, one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth on the career list.