Five Thoughts from Serena Williams' exhiliarating 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win over Victoria Azarenka in the 2012 U.S. Open women's final.
? Serena Williams won the 2012 U.S. Open. Winning the 15th major singles title of her career marks still another split step toward the Evert-Navratilova-Graf corridor. First, she beat the primary person capable of giving her fits at this event: Serena Williams. She played six rounds of poised, unflustered, nothing-can-bother-me tennis. Then she beat the player most capable of giving her fits on the other side of the net: Victoria Azarenka. In the final on Sunday, she was at her courageous best, simply refusing to lose in the most compelling tennis match you could hope to see.
When Roger Federer was winning multiple majors each year as a matter of ritual, the matches were seldom close, but we were awestruck at his brilliance, his ability to maneuver the ball like no other player. Serena doesn't possess Federer's naturally beautiful game. But her gifts can be just as striking and conspicuous and singular. Apart from her unrivaled power, she has rations of mental strength that are unmatched in tennis -- and, I would contend, in all of sports. Down 3-5 in the final set, visibly tired, and miscasting her shots, she simply refused to be defeated. She reeled off the last four games to win 7-5.
? Victoria Azarenka, take a bow. And then take a day off. If we work on the assumption that Serena is the best in the business, Azarenka has made a nice case for herself as 1A. She started the year in blistering form, winning the Australian Open and Indian Wells amid a 26-match win streak. Though her results (read: titles) trailed off a bit, she still reached the Wimbledon semis, won bronze at the Olympics and won six matches here, including a Who'll-blink-first? duel against Maria Sharapova on Friday, one of the best women's matches in 2012.
Sunday, she did what so few others have done: betray confidence, relish the battle and contend with Serena Williams. While Azarenka is doubtlessly devastated -- after the match she sat with a towel covering her face -- coming so close to victory and failing by a sliver, she deserves immense credit and ought to leave secure in the knowledge that she gave the greatest fighter a hell of a fight.
? A characteristic comeback. After Memorial Day weekend, Serena lost in the French Open to Virginie Razzano, a little known French player ranked outside the top 100. She recovered with miraculous -- and characteristic -- swiftness to win Wimbledon and Olympic gold, playing an altogether different sport from her opponents. (Including Azarenka, whom she beat twice during that stretch.) Through six rounds of the Open -- and a set in the final -- she continued to roll. And then she prevailed in a classic battle. In some ways this is in keeping with the unpredictability that has defined Serena's career. But what a summer it has been.
What's more, it's nice to see Serena exorcise the ghosts of past U.S. Opens. In 2009, there was the footfault debacle. She missed 2010. In 2011 she lost a match she should have won, falling to Sam Stosur and again losing her cool. She broke the hex with today's title. And won the crowd over in the process. We say it all the time: Some of you love her, some of you hate her, but it is never boring.
? Plenty of back-end drama. During week one, we carbo-loaded on bagels (6-0 sets) and breadsticks (6-1 sets) as the top seeds romped. Check out the draw. Or check out Serena going more than three entire sets without losing a game. The critics, of course, came out in full force, declaring women's tennis boring, the field weak, etc. The loyal fans had the last laugh. The three players who won majors in 2012 -- Azarenka, Sharapova, and Serena -- made the semifinals here, and we were treated to two absolutely classic matches, all-out trench wars, filled with wavering momentum, strategic attacks and counterattacks and some spoon-bending mental fitness. We might yawn at the blow-outs. But what event in sports can top a tightly-contested tennis match?
? Double the fun. Let's devote one bullet point to Italiennes, Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani who won the women's doubles title earlier today, beating Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic in a thoroughly entertaining match. The two winners are best friends and when they played each other in singles in the quarterfinals, they both looked miserable. (Errani won in a relatively forgettable match.) Today it was all Vera felicita. This pair won won the French Open as well. We talk about the women who were vying for WTA Player-of-the-Year bragging rights, rankings be damned. Seems to me, Vinci and Errani just wrapped it for doubles.