Serena Williams digs deep to edge epic US Open final with brave Victoria Azarenka

 

This time there were no tantrums, no rows with officials, no penalties. Serena Williams, whose last two US Opens had ended in defeat and controversy, kept her nerve to win her home Grand Slam tournament for the first time for four years here last night. The 31-year-old American beat Victoria Azarenka, the world No 1, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 to claim the 15th Grand Slam singles title of her career.

It was the first time that a US Open women's singles final had gone to three sets for 17 years. Women's Grand Slam finals have regularly disappointed over the years, but this was a match full of drama, swings of momentum and top-quality ball-striking, even if there were also plenty of mistakes as both players – and Williams in particular – sometimes let the occasion get the better of them.

Williams' victory, which followed her fifth Wimbledon triumph earlier in the summer, ended a run of seven successive Grand Slam tournaments won by different players. Her fourth title here came a full 13 years after her first. In the Open era no other woman has won Grand Slam tournaments over such a length of time.

There was a time when Azarenka regularly stumbled at the latter stages of Grand Slam tournaments, but the world No 1 has been a changed character in the last 12 months. Along with her improved physical power, she has shown much greater mental strength.

Azarenka saved four break points in her first service game, but put a backhand long on the fifth. Williams was 3-0 up in 10 minutes, met brief resistance as Azarenka held serve twice, but made a second break to take the set in 34 minutes, finishing off with two crunching backhand winners.

As Williams had won all her previous matches here this year in straight sets – in an average of 68 minutes – the crowd were probably expecting her to run away with the match. Azarenka, however, soon made it clear that she was up for a fight.

Azarenka broke in the opening game of the second set and again in the fifth, which she opened with a wonderful running forehand winner down the line. At 5-2 and 30-30 the Belarusian hit two successive unreturned serves to win a set against Williams for the first time in their last six encounters.

Williams served her way out of trouble in the first game of the third set but could not do the same two games later as Azarenka took the lead for the first time in the match. Her advantage did not last long. Williams, hitting some huge winners, broke back immediately and after hitting her 11th ace to take a 3-2 lead bellowed out a blood-curdling cry of "Come on!"

Azarenka, however, kept pressing. When Williams served at 3-3 the American played a dreadful game. From 0-15 she served a double fault, mishit a backhand and appeared to tighten up badly when she put a forehand long on Azarenka's first break point.

Williams, nevertheless, held on when she served to stay in the match at 3-5 – at one stage she was two points from defeat – and in the following game broke Azarenka as the Belarusian's nerve finally appeared to crumble.

After Williams had held to lead 6-5, it was Azarenka's turn to serve to keep her title hopes alive. After she had hit a forehand long to give Williams match point, the American closed out victory when the Belarusian put a backhand long.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci maintained their remarkable season by winning the women's doubles title. The Italian pair, who beat the Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 6-2, also won the French Open title and were runners-up in the Australian Open. This was the eighth doubles title they have won this year.

 

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