| NEW YORK, Sept 9
NEW YORK, Sept 9 Serena Williams, through sheer
force of will as much as her skill with the racket, beat world
number one Victoria Azarenka 6-2 2-6 7-5 in a dramatic U.S. Open
final on Sunday to capture her 15th singles grand slam title.
On her best behaviour but struggling to subdue an opponent
seven years her junior, Williams provided an everlasting
reminder of her incredible fighting qualities as she became the
tournament's oldest women's champion in nearly four decades.
Already one of the greatest players to grace the game, the
American's longevity adds new credence to her place in the
sport's pantheon with Sunday's victory coming almost 13 years to
the day she won her first U.S. Open as a teenager in 1999.
"I don't consider myself the greatest," she said.
"I just consider myself a tennis player who's trying to do
the best I can."
Her clash, against the top player in the world this year,
lived up to all expectations and more as the pair traded blows
for almost two and a half hours at Flushing Meadows.
Azarenka, who won her maiden grand slam title at the
Australian Open in January, led 5-3 in the deciding final set
and was within two points of victory when Williams lifted and
reeled off the last four games to capture her fourth U.S. Open
"I have no regrets. I felt like I gave it all there," said
"Could it have gone my way? Probably, yes. But it didn't and
it really, really hurts."
SIGNS OF NERVES
The opening exchanges gave few clues of what was to come as
Williams romped through the opening set in 35 minutes with two
service breaks and 16 stunning winners.
But the Belarusian returned to the court with renewed
determination and found a way to penetrate her opponent's serve.
As Williams started to show the first signs of nerves,
Azarenka seized her opportunity, breaking her serve twice, and
for the first time since 1995, the women's final at Flushing
Meadows was forced into a winner-takes-all third set.
The capacity crowd at the bear-pit that is the Arthur Ashe
Stadium centre court roared with excitement as the two
combatants ran themselves to the point of exhaustion, producing
some breathtaking shots as the stakes rose.
Williams kept her cool, even when she was called for a foot
fault, avoiding a repeat of her petulant behaviour at Flushing
Meadows in the 2009 semi-final against Kim Clijsters and last
year's final with Sam Stosur.
After facing serious health issues, including the discovery
of a life-threatening blood-clot on her lung, in the past 18
months Williams has developed a new perspective about her
actions on court.
"I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but
by how they can recover when they fall," she said.
"I have fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I
dust myself off and I pray and I'm able to do better or I'm able
to get back to the level that I want to be on."
In the third set, it was the American who blinked first and
her golden summer, which included winning a fifth Wimbledon
title and two gold medals at the London Olympics, looked like
coming to an end.
She was two points away from losing but regained her
composure when it mattered most by winning the last four games
then collapsing on the court at the realisation she had won
again, with little more than two weeks before her 31st birthday.
"For me, she's the greatest player of all time. She took the
game to the next level," Azarenka said.
"I congratulated her with all my heart because I felt like
she absolutely deserved the win. She was the best player out
Only Australia's Margaret Court, who had already turned 31
when she won her last U.S. Open crown in 1973, won the title at
an older age than Williams but the American is not finished yet.
"My motivation is so up there," she said. "I just feel like
I'm ready for the next tournament.
"I really want to be focused and do well there and just keep
the dream alive."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)