The world at her feet

Serena beats No.1 Azarenka 6-2,2-6,7-5 to win her 15th Grand Slam

Written by Associated Press | New York | Published:September 11, 2012 12:25 am

HOWARD FENDRICH

Two points from defeat,Serena Williams suddenly regained her composure to come back and win the last four games,beating No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-2,2-6,7-5 on Sunday for her fourth US Open title and 15th Grand Slam title overall. “I honestly can’t believe I won. I really was preparing my runner-up speech,because I thought,‘Man,she’s playing so great’,’’ Williams said during the trophy presentation,adding: “I’m really shocked.’’

What really was stunning was that Azarenka made things as interesting as they were,given that she came into the day 1-9 against Williams over their careers. Add in that Williams hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament,losing only 19 games through six matches before Sunday. All part of a tremendous run she is putting together in reaction to her loss at the French Open in late May,the American’s only first-round exit in 49 career major tournaments. Since then,she is 26-1,winning Wimbledon and the London Olympics. “I was miserable after that loss in Paris. I have never been so miserable after a loss,’’ Williams said. “I pulled it together. … Sometimes,they say,it’s good to lose,’’ Serena said.

There hadn’t been a three-set women’s final in New York since 1995,and Williams came through with a late charge to become the first woman to win Wimbledon and the US Open in the same season since a decade ago — when she did it. “She never gives up,’’ said Azarenka,who managed only 13 winners,31 fewer than Williams. “She’s definitely the toughest player,mentally,there is and she’s got the power.’’

While Azarenka,a 23-year-old from Belarus,doesn’t have the name recognition or bona fides of Williams,she did win the Australian Open in January,and was 32-2 (a .941 winning percentage) on hard courts in 2012. She also hadn’t dropped a three-setter all season until Sunday,going 12-0 in matches that went the distance,including victories over defending US Open champion Sam Stosur in the quarterfinals and 2006 champion Maria Sharapova in the semifinals.

As Sunday’s third set commenced,Williams’ mother,Oracene Price,told her from the stands,“Settle down.’’

When Williams double-faulted,slapped a bad backhand into the net and pushed a forehand long,Azarenka broke at love for a 4-3 edge,then followed that up by holding for 5-3. Azarenka was two points away at 30-30 with Williams serving in the next game,but couldn’t convert. And when Azarenka served for the victory at 5-4,she showed the jitters that probably are understandable given that this was only her second career Grand Slam final,17 fewer than Williams.

Azarenka made three errors in that game,including a forehand into the net that let Williams break her to 5-all. Williams kept whatever excitement she might have felt contained,face straight as possible,while her older sister,seven-time major champion Venus,smiled and clapped in the stands.

That was during a key stretch in which Williams took 10 of 12 points to go ahead 6-5. She then broke again to win,dropping onto her back on the court when Azarenka sent a backhand long to end it. “Feels like there is no room for a mistake,’’ is the way Azarenka described trying to deal with Williams’ game. “There is no room for a wrong decision.’’

Cup of joy

Azarenka slumped in her changeover chair,a white towel covering her head,as Williams kept saying,“Oh,my God! Oh,my God! Oh,my God!’’ while scurrying over to share the joy with her mother and big sister. Williams,who turns 31 on September 26,is the first 30-year-old woman to win the US Open since Martina Navratilova in 1987.

Williams dominating the game right now. And she’s been dominant,off and on,for more than a decade. She won her very first major championship at age 17 at the 1999 US Open. Winning titles 13 years apart at the same Grand Slam tournament represents the longest span of success in the professional era,which began in 1968. Navratilova (Wimbledon,1978 and 1990) and Chris Evert (French Open,1974 and 1986) had the longest previous spans of 12 years.

Every so often,though,Williams’ reign has been interrupted by health problems. She missed eight months after surgery on her left knee in 2003,the year she had completed a “Serena Slam’’ by winning four consecutive major titles.

Of more concern was what happened only a few days after she won Wimbledon in 2010. Williams cut both feet on broken glass while leaving a restaurant in Germany,leading to two operations on her right foot. Then she got blood clots in her lungs and needed to inject a blood thinner. Those shots led to a pool of blood gathering under her stomach’s skin,requiring another treatment. In all,she was off the tour for about 10 months.

When they got started,Williams was good as can be,compiling a 16-2 advantage in winners through the first set. She pounded big serves — she finished with 13 aces,at up to 125 mph — and big returns; smacked forehands and backhands out of Azarenka’s reach; even tossed in a terrific backhand lob to break for a 2-0 lead at the outset.

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