In a tense and unpredictable match, Serena Williams steeled her nerves to defeat Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday to win her fifth U.S. Open title and 17th Grand Slam title overall.
In a match marred by swirling winds in New York, Williams looked on her way to a competitive but straightforward victory after winning the first set and building a two-break lead at 4-1 in the second set. Williams served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5, but Azarenka broke her both times. Azarenka won the tiebreaker to force a decisive third set.
From there, though, Williams controlled her emotions and her game to roll through the third set. She finished the match with 36 winners to 35 unforced errors, while Azarenka hit 17 winners to 27 unforced errors.
In successfully defending her U.S. Open crown, the 31-year-old Williams won her career-best ninth title of the year. By winning the U.S. Open Series this summer and the U.S. Open, Williams earned $3.6 million. That makes her the first woman and only the fourth player to surpass $9 million in single-season earnings, joining Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Game-by-game analsysis of Williams' tough title test after the jump.
7:41 p.m. ET | Serena Williams defeats Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 to win the 2013 U.S. Open title.
Serena Williams rebounds from a nervy and anxious end to the second set to run away with the third. She celebrates by jumping up and down and seemingly stomping out any demons she might have had coming into this tournament.
Final stats don't tell the whole story on this one, but Serena's aggression was once again the story, and in the the third set in particular, Azarenka's double faults and unforced errors spelled the end to her comeback.
Serena: 9 aces, 5 double faults, 36 winners, 35 unforced.
Azarenka: 2 aces, 7 double faults, 17 winners, 27 unforced.
That was a great final -- a match the women's tournament desperately needed after two weeks of fairly straightforward results. It was great to see Azarenka once against step up to the challenge of taking on Williams and Serena responding with some grit of her own.
7:32 p.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *5-1.
Another flat game from Azarenka, answered with nothing but measured, solid hitting from Serena. She breaks and will serve (again) for the title.
7:26 p.m. ET | Serena breaks and holds, leads 4-1*.
Serving woes continue to catch up with Azarenka. She double-faults on break point to give Serena the lead, but the real story of that game was the fact that her forehand is beginning to break down. Three bad forehand unforced errors in that game gave Serena the chance to break.
Serena is eerily calm this set, which is precisely what she needs to be after finishing the last set in a jumble of angst. She holds with back-to-back aces, one that clocked in at 126 mph. She walks to her chair slowly and calmly, though I'm not entirely convinced she's breathing.
7:14 p.m. ET | Serena holds, leads 2-1*.
Stats won't tell the story of that second set. Serena was dominant on every metric, hitting 15 winners (five aces) to 12 unforced errors. The issue was all mental. Azarenka was able to recover from her mental lapse when she hit those three double faults to fall behind two breaks at 1-4, while Serena couldn't get over her frustration with the wind. Yes, the wind isn't fun to negotiate, but two hours in, it's a waste of energy to complain about it.
Good holds from both women to start the third set.
Yeah, those sweat patterns are not getting any better as we round into the third hour.
From the WTA's Kevin Fisher: Serena is 44-17 in the majors in three-setters, and Azarenka is 17-7.
The world No. 3 is taking a break from her busy New York Fashion Week schedule to tune into the action:
7:01 p.m. ET | Victoria Azarenka wins the tiebreak 8-6 and forces a third set, 7-5, 6-7 (6).
1-0, Azarenka. Serena misses a backhand unforced into the net.
1-1, tied. Big body serve from Serena, and Azarenka sends the return long.
2-1, Serena. Azarenka backhand unforced.
3-1. Serena. Great backhand winner from Serena.
3-2, Serena. Azarenka swinging forehand volley with the wind playing tricks on that ball. It barely landed in. Heck of a swing from Vika on a knuckleball.
3-3, tied. Serena misses a forehand volley into the net. Had the whole court but didn't get low enough to it to clear the net.
4-3, Serena. Azarenka snatches at a forehand and sends it wide.
4-4, tied. Wind, wind wind, continuing to play with Serena's shots and her mind. She sails a forehand well long.
5-4, Azarenka. Azarenka sneaks into the net, catching Serena off guard. She did the same thing in Cincinnati, and it won her the match. Just two points from forcing a third set.
6-4, Azarenka. Another wind-strewn point and Serena snatches at a backhand, sending it into the bottom of the net. She smashes her racket in frustration. That's been a long time coming.
6-5, Azarenka. Serena saves one set point, hits a service winner.
6-6, tied. A Long, patient rally. Serena gets the better of Azarenka, and the No. 2 sends a forehand into the net. Serena screams in exultation. This is tense and awesome.
7-6, Azarenka. Serena takes her time getting to the line to return, possibly trying to ice Azarenka. But she sends in a good second serve and Serena strikes the return wide. Another set point.
8-6, Azarenka wins the set. Serena sends a backhand long, and Azarenka has fought back from two breaks down to force a third set.
One-set shootout. What a dramatic final. Great stuff.
And everyone's watching:
6:49 p.m. ET | Azarenka breaks, tied 6-6.
Azarenka breaks again! Tension-filled game from Serena, who snatches at a backhand at 30-all to give Azarenka a break point and then double-faults. Wow.
Tiebreak. Here we go.
6:43 p.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *6-5.
Azarenka can't consolidate the break. Serena matches her and plays an even better return game. She gets to triple break point with two backhand winners and an Azarenka double fault. She thinks she's won the game when an Azarenka groundstroke looks to land long, but Hawk-Eye shows it's in by a millimeter.
She eventually breaks when Azarenka sends her 11th unforced error of the set into the net. Once again, a shocking unforced error on a crucial point for Vika.
Serena will, once again, serve for the championship.
6:38 p.m. ET | Azarenka breaks, tied 5-5*.
A nervy double fault and some great returning from Azarenka, and she breaks Serena at 30. Last year, Azarenka got nervous serving out the match at 5-4 in the third set. This time it's Serena, who ends the game with a backhand error. But credit to Azarenka, who played a flawless return game there.
6:30 p.m. ET | Serena holds, leads *5-4.
Serena snuffs out any momentum Azarenka may have pulled back with a clean and decisive love hold. One game away from her fifth U.S. Open title and 17th major overall.
Party Rock is not in the house tonight. He's in Australia.
Azarenka holds with the help of a beautiful forehand winner down the line. Once again, she's acquitted herself well here. Serena is just ... Serena.
6:24 p.m. ET | Azarenka breaks and holds, trails *3-4.
"I tell ya, 4-2 is a lot better than 5-1," says Johnny Mac. Can't really argue with that.
Azarenka recovers from her double fault-fest and gets one break back with some strong and steady hitting, then overcomes yet another ill-timed double to hold. That's a great recovery by Vika.
6:16 p.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *4-1.
Azarenka has struggled with her serve for months now (she was averaging six double faults per match this tournament), but she didn't double-fault once in the first set. After squandering a chance to break Serena in the previous game, Azarenka throws in three double faults, including back-to-back doubles to hand over the break. That, folks, is what we call a mental collapse.
6:12 p.m. ET | Serena holds, leads 3-1*.
An hour into the match, the wind is still an issue, though both players have done well to adjust to it. It's much more difficult to hold serve from the far side and, sure enough, Azarenka earns two break points to get this match level. Serena saves one with an ace and then Azarenka hits a bad backhand error to get to deuce. Serena holds.
As Mary Carillo points out, Azarenka was two points from winning that first set and once again she's two points from getting a crucial break back but can't convert. All the big points are going to Serena today.
Side note: Does Nike not do a sweat test on its fabrics? Azarenka is developing some unfortunate sweat patterns, while Serena's skirt is flying all over the place. Neither is a flattering look. Do better, Swoosh.
6:03 p.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *2-1.
Azarenka snaps a streak of 10 points lost by getting on the board at 15-30. The No. 2 is screaming to get herself going, but a backhand error gives Serena the break. Now that she has a set in hand, Serena is looking much more relaxed.
It should be noted that Azarenka came back from a set down to beat Serena just a few weeks ago in the Cincinnati final. She's not one to go away or get intimidated by Serena's rise in form over the last 15 minutes.
5:49 p.m. ET | Serena wins the first set 7-5.
Serena wins the last eight points of the set to take it 7-5. No doubt Azarenka had multiple opportunities to take that first set. But, as I said before the match, if Serena plays her best, there's nothing Azarenka can do about it. Serena was far from her best for 90 percent of that set, but Azarenka couldn't capitalize and Serena picked it up and found her level just in time to break and hold to steal the set.
Here's are the first-set stats:
Serena: 2 aces, 2 double faults, 53 percent first serves in, won 85 percent on first serve, 44 percent on second serve, 15 winners, 15 unforced errors, 2-for-3 on break points and 2-for-5 at the net.
Azarenka: 2 aces, 0 double faults, 59 percent first serves in, won 71 percent on second serve, 9 winners, 7 unforced errors, 1-for-1 on break points, 2-for-2 at the net.
5:46 p.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *6-5.
A huge hold and then a break. Momentum can switch just like that.
Sticky service game for Serena. She gets game point at 40-30 and hits a let second serve. Azarenka challenges the call and it's in, but the delay to wait out the Hawk-Eye challenge leads her to step to the line and completely mishit the second serve into the net to double-fault.
She hits a fantastic backhand winner to get to game point, and Azarenka responds with a wicked drop shot that Serena can't track down. Another big backhand winner from Serena to get to game point, and Azarenka gets her right back with a winner that clips the line. This is fantastic stuff.
Serena gets back to game point with her best point of the match, smothering the ball until she gets a backhand swing volley to put away. She seals the game with an ace down the tee. Huge for her to win that game the way she did. Azarenka gave her nothing.
Azarenka looks well on her way to hold at 40-15 and then Serena kicks it up a level. Two perfectly measured forehand winners and some big returning off Azarenka's second serve and, just like that, Serena's broken. She'll serve for the set.
5:28 p.m. ET | Azarenka holds, leads 5-4*.
Serena holds at 15 and she's slowly tightening up her game. The errors are slowing down and the winners are starting to creep up. She's at 7 winners to 10 unforced now.
While the wind is driving Serena crazy, it's actually helping Azarenka. She plays her best game of the match so far to hold with authority. She's hitting clean off the ground, and the wind helps her out with a few lucky lobs.
Can Vika break for the set?
5:20 p.m. ET | Azarenka holds, leads 4-3*.
As Serena serves at 3-2, here are the stats so far, courtesy of the IBM Slamtracker. Serena is the blue, Azarenka is the yellow. Blue is having a very rough start.
The most glaring stats are the serving numbers. Serena is serving at less than 50 percent, and Azarenka is winning more than 70 percent of her second-serve points. The latter is the most telling. Serena should be dominating Azarenka's second serve.
5:11 p.m. ET | Azarenka holds, leads 3-2*.
"I can't play in this wind," Serena mutters to herself on the way to her chair. This is a huge opportunity for Azarenka to take this set. As for Serena, she just needs to accept these conditions and adjust.
Wertheim and I are obviously referring to 15-year-old American junior Tornado Alicia Black, who lost the girls' final today to Croatia's Ana Konjuh, in a match on Court 11. Tornado has a younger sister named Hurricane. No joke.
The errors keep coming for Serena. Azarenka gets to 30-all on her serve, but two bad backhand errors give Serena the game. That was a big opportunity lost for Azarenka. She had a real chance to keep the scoreboard pressure on Serena and get another break, but that hold might settle the American down.
Fairly easy hold for Azarenka. She hits a nice backhand down-the-line winner at 15-all and cruises from there.
5:04 p.m. ET | Azarenka holds, leads 2-1*.
As Azarenka went up for her first serve of the match, a fan screams and interrupts her motion. Never change, New York.
Azarenka makes every single first serve and still falls behind 0-40. Serena has no problem with the pace on that ball in the slightest. She breaks easily with a crushing backhand winner.
The wind is swirling as the match begins, making it tough for both servers. Azarenka gets a break point at 30-40 on Serena's serve thanks to three straight unforced errors. Another backhand error from Serena and Azarenka gets the break back.
Serena is already complaining to her box about the wind. She's planting way too early on her shots to load and can't adjust to the ball when the wind catches it. Serena has the power to hit through the wind if she gets her footwork right, but right now she's pulling up on everything. Azarenka, being the more steady player off the baseline, has to like what she sees so far.
Azarenka holds as Serena is already up to six unforced errors through three games, all of which came in the last two games.
4:44 p.m. ET | Warm up
Serena appears surprisingly relaxed in her pre-match talk with Mary Joe Fernandez. She actually burst out laughing a few times, which is rare for these interviews. Azarenka has her game face on and earbuds in. John McEnroe is already saying it's amazing that Azarenka believes she can win this match. That's a little unfair. I mean, she's beaten her twice this year on this surface and served for the match in last year's final. There's no reason she shouldn't believe she can win this match.
That said, the big caveat is that Serena's best is better than Azarenka's best. If Serena plays as well as she has throughout this tournament, she'll win this in straight sets. I think her match against Sloane Stephens really locked Serena into this tournament and she's been on a completely different level in terms of intensity ever since. After beating Stephens in the fourth round, she threw down three straight bagel sets. Scary stuff.
Huge ovation for both women as they take to Arthur Ashe Stadium, though the cheers are louder for the American No. 1. Gotta love home-court advantage.
I've picked Serena to win this one in straights. You can read my full preview here.
Azarenka will serve first. Ready? Play.
No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka will meet in the final of the U.S. Open on Sunday. CBS will televise the match, which is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
This is a rematch of last year's final, which Williams won 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. Williams, 31, has been dominant in defense of her title, losing only 16 games and no sets in her first six matches. The 16-time Grand Slam champion beat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-1 in the fourth round, she double-bageled Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals and she dismissed fifth-seeded Li Na 6-0, 6-3 in the semifinals.
"She's obviously an amazing player," Azarenka said. "She's the greatest of all time."
Azarenka, 24, hasn't been quite as sharp as Williams, but she's still managed to reach her fourth consecutive hard-court Slam final. The two-time defending Australian Open champion needed three sets to defeat No. 26 Alize Cornet in the third round and No. 13 Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. Since then, though, Azarenka has had no problem against two unseeded veterans, Daniela Hantuchova and Flavia Pennetta.
Williams has won 12 of 15 matches against Azarenka. However, Azarenka has won both of their meetings on hard courts this year, three-set victories in the Doha final in February and the Cincinnati final last month. Azarenka served for the match against Williams in last year's U.S. Open final, too. "I definitely feel like when she plays me she plays her best, by far," Williams said of Azarenka. "I have seen her play other players, and when I play her I'm playing a totally different player. Obviously, she brings her best game."