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Beyond the Baseline

Photos: Serena Williams defends her U.S. Open title in a thriller

Serena Williams' 17th major title puts her just one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth place on the all-time list. (Al Bello/Getty Images) Serena Williams' 17th major title puts her just one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth place on the all-time list. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

It wasn't easy. Serena Williams had to fight off her nerves, the wind and the battle-tested grit of Victoria Azarenka to capture her fifth U.S. Open title with a 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 victory on Sunday.

Once again, Azarenka proved she has an uncanny ability to lift her game and play her best against Williams, shocking the No. 1 by storming back from a 1-4 deficit to force a third set. From there, Williams stepped up her level, started serving bigger and better, and Azarenka couldn't respond.

"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."

Though Williams now leads the head-to-head 13-3, her clashes with Azarenka have produced some of the best displays of women's tennis over the last two years. Theirs is the WTA's preeminent rivalry right now and that's full credit to Azarenka's competitive spirit.

"She really made it happen," Azarenka said after the match. "In that particular moment [in the third set], she was tougher. She was more consistent, and, she deserved to win. I wish I could do something better today. I felt like I had opportunities in the first set, as well. But it's OK. It goes that way. I did everything I could."

Azarenka added: "I lost to a great champion, but I'm still going to have my head up."

Williams now holds the longest span for a woman winning a major title, 14 years, dating to her 1999 U.S. Open title. Just a couple of weeks short of her 32nd birthday, Williams says she's feeling better than ever.

"I feel great," she said. "I have never felt better. I feel really fit. I can play a tournament like this, singles, doubles, with tough, tough schedules. ... I haven't felt like this in a number of years. I'm excited about the possibilities. I don't know what can happen. I just keep playing and do the best that I can."

Here are some of our favorite photos from the best women's Grand Slam final of the year.

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

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

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Granted, some things were a little less graceful. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

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Frustration? Elation? Relief? It's always hard to tell with Serena. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

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

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Their last four hard court finals have gone a full three sets, but Azarenka lost the two that came at the Slams. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

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Once again, the No. 1 and No. 2 came through to deliver an exciting final. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Serena made $3.6 million, while Azarenka earned $1.55 million. So they took some time to make it rain. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

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President Bill Clinton almost cursed Serena's win, but all is forgiven as he says hi to her dog, Chip. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images for the USTA)

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Two Slam titles this year, 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)

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