Serena Williams’ victory over Victoria Azarenka in the US Open final here on Sunday night was her second Grand Slam triumph of the year, the 17th of her career and her 14th title in her last 19 tournaments. The world No 1 admitted, however, she was relieved after her 7-5, 6-7, 6-1 win.
“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.’ I didn’t even make it to the quarter-finals of one of them, so I definitely feel a lot better with at least a second Grand Slam under my belt this year.”
A 32nd birthday is approaching for the American, but at this rate plenty more records are also beckoning. The latest win – her fifth US Open triumph, 14 years after her first – takes Williams within one Grand Slam singles title of the totals won by both Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and leaves her just five behind the 22 won by Steffi Graf, which is the record for the Open era.
Asked about future goals, including the prospect of trying to overhaul Graf, Williams said: “I don’t think about it. I feel great. I have never felt better. I feel really fit. I can play a tournament like this – singles, doubles – with tough, tough schedules. For the most part, I felt really good. 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.”
A 17th Grand Slam title also puts Williams equal with Roger Federer, who holds the record in the men’s game. “It’s an honour to be even with Roger,” she said. “He’s been such a great champion throughout the years. He’s just an unbelievable competitor and he’s still playing and can probably still win more. It feels really good to be in that same league as him. He’s just been so incredibly consistent, so we have had really different careers.”
The one player who might just stop Williams in her tracks is Azarenka, the world No 2, who proved once again that she is not in awe of the American. Twice an Australian Open champion, the 24-year-old from Belarus has turned around what was a losing record against Williams, having beaten her twice this year.
Although she did not come as close to victory as she had in last year’s final, Azarenka showed great resilience, particularly in fighting back from 4-1 down in the second set. Williams, who was more troubled by the windy conditions than her opponent, served for the match three times in the second set, but on each occasion Azarenka broke back. “Today wasn’t probably my best tennis of the tournament, but there were a lot of things going on against a good player,” Williams said when asked about her missed opportunities. “ I think I got a little uptight, which probably wasn’t the best thing at that moment. I wasn’t playing very smart tennis then, so I just had to relax and not do that again.”
Williams’ prize money of $3.6m (£2.3m), boosted by a bonus for her performances in the tournaments in the build-up to New York, takes her earnings for this year to more than $9m (£5.8m) – only Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have ever won more in a single season – and her career prize-money to more than $50m (£32m).
“Someone told me today I passed $50m, but half of that goes to my Uncle Sam,” Williams said with a laugh, referring to her taxes. “ I love him. I’m always giving him half my money.
“I don’t play tennis for the money. I honestly love to play. I love Grand Slams. When I grew up playing tennis in Compton, I just never thought about any of this. I didn’t think about the press. I didn’t even know all this came with everything. I think my dad got me into tennis because of the money, but me being naive and silly, I never thought about it. I just thought: ‘I want to win.’ I wanted to do what Venus does. I want to win and I want to do more.”
She added: “I’m already thinking about what I could have done better. I think I’m a little crazy in that part, like something must be not right, because I don’t even relish the moment enough. I just automatically think: ‘What’s next?’”
Serena's progress: grand slam titles
Serena Williams’ win over Victoria Azarenka in the US Open final was her 17th Grand Slam singles title. She has also lost in four finals.
US Open 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013
French Open 2002, 2013
Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010
Wimbledon 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012
Women’s Slam winners
1 Margaret Court * 24
2 Steffi Graf 22
3 Helen Wills Moody* 19
4 Martina Navratilova 18
= Chris Evert 18
6 Serena Williams 17
7 Billie Jean King 12
8 Suzanne Lenglen* 8
9 Venus Williams 7
= Maria Bueno* 7
* Played before the Open era