The summer of Serena rolls on.
In one of the finest and most compelling U.S. Open women's finals, Serena Williams won her fourth Open Sunday with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, hard-won victory over Victoria Azarenka. In a 2-hour, 18-minute slugfest, Williams prevailed by breaking Azarenka's final two serves in a match in which the shot quality was high, the rallies intense, the Arthur Ashe Stadium atmosphere electric. And though the crowd was in Williams' court to start the match, they warmed to Azarenka with calls of "Veeka, Veeka, Veeka" as she dug in and sent the match to a third set.
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What a summer this has been for the 30-year-old Williams. She won Wimbledon in July, defeating Agnieszka Radwanska. She won the WTA event at Stanford, defeating Coco Vandeweghe. She returned to Wimbledon and won Olympic gold by storming through the field, beating Maria Sharapova in the final, 6-0, 6-1, and she also won doubles gold with sister Venus. There was a perfunctory quarterfinal loss to Angelique Kerber at Cincinnati. Now, her 15th major singles title.
"Gosh, it is really amazing," Williams said. "I knew it would be a long summer. I thought I would be a good player, thought I could be a champion. I never expected to win all these titles."
Williams roared through the first six rounds here, not dropping a set and or raising a sweat. She lost her serve only twice in those six matches. Sara Errani was no competition in the semis.
Azarenka was a different matter. Though she had lost the last three matches against Williams, and won only once in 10 meetings, she came into the Open as the No. 1-ranked player and the No. 1 seed, and showed her mettle in the semifinals when she dropped the first set, then rallied to beat Sharapova.
Williams broke Azarenka in the second game of the opening set and broke her again in the eighth game to win it. But as she did against Sharapova, Azarenka began to make Williams work more for every point, started to time her first serve better, and started teeing off on her second serve.
Azarenka finally earned her first break points of the match in the first game of the second set and got the break when Williams double-faulted. In the third game, Williams was called for a foot fault. After holding her serve, she gave the baselinesman a double stare on the way to her chair, but said nothing. Azarenka got another break in the fifth game and served out the set.
Williams served to start the third and went down 0-30 quickly. Then her serve bailed her out with two aces and two service winners to hold. She was broken in the third game when she couldn't handle Azarenka's deep return. She got the break right back, then was broken again on four straight points in the seventh game.
Azarenka served for the match in the 10th game, but Williams managed a break to tie the set at 5, bringing the crowd to its feet. Williams held serve, then Azarenka had two game points on her serve to take the match to the tiebreak, but failed to convert. Williams won the title when Azarenka hit a backhand long.
Azarenka won the Australian Open and her opening four tournaments. This has been her career year.
"I think it was a great match," Azarenka said. "Being so close, it hurts deeply to know you don't have it, you're close, you didn't get it . . . I feel proud of myself in one way, but still sad. But in a few days when I go home, I'll be more than happy with the summer."
Williams was almost subdued in the aura of victory, but her smile told everything.
"To cap off the gold medal, and come to the U.S. Open and win, I am so excited," she said. "My 15th [major], it's so cool."
SERENA WILLIAMS IN GRAND SLAM FINALS
Australian Open: 5-0
French Open: 1-0
U.S. Open: 4-2
Career total: 15-4 (.789)
U.S. OPEN THREE-SET WOMEN'S FINALS
2012 — Serena Williams def. Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
1995 — Steffi Graf def. Monica Seles, 7-6 (6), 0-6, 6-3.
1994 — Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario def. Steffi Graf, 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
1989 — Steffi Graf def. Martina Navratilova, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
1988 — Steffi Graf def. Gabriela Sabatini, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
1985 — Hana Mandlikova def. Martina Navratilova, 7-6 (3), 1-6, 7-6 (2).
1984 — Martina Navratilova def. Chris Evert Lloyd, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
1981 — Tracy Austin def. Martina Navratilova, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1).
1980 — Chris Evert Lloyd def. Hana Mandlikova, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
1975 — Chris Evert def. Evonne Goolagong, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
1974 — Billie Jean King def. Evonne Goolagong, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
1973 — Margaret Smith Court def. Evonne Goolagong, 7-6 (5-2), 5-7, 6-2.
1970 — Margaret Smith Court def. Rosie Casals, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.