After being troubled by the swirling air and strong play of her opponent Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams battled back to win her second straight U.S. Open and fifth overall, raising her Grand Slam singles title count to 17, the sixth-most in history and one shy of tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
Facing her only test of the past two weeks, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame No. 2 Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday to win the U.S. Open.
The victory did not come easily, even though it appeared to be nearly over when Williams went ahead in the second set. Williams served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 — only to have the gutsy Azarenka break each time.
“Vika’s such a great opponent, such a great fighter,” Williams said, “and that’s why she’s been able to win multiple Grand Slams. That’s why it was never over until match point.”
With former President Bill Clinton among the announced crowd of 23,584 in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Williams’ older sister Venus in a front-row seat, the fans were largely cheering for the American.
“I definitely felt the love,” Williams said, “so thank you all so much for the support.”
Williams, who turns 32 on Sept. 26, collected a $3.6 million prize, including a $1 million bonus for producing the best results during the North American summer hard-court circuit leading up to the U.S. Open.
Since a first-round exit at the 2012 French Open, Williams is 98-5 with 14 titles, winning four of the past six Grand Slam tournaments.
This was a rematch of last year’s final, also won by Williams in three sets.
“It is a tough loss, but to be in the final and play against the best player — who deserves to win today — it’s incredible,” said Azarenka, who is from Belarus. “I gave it all today. We showed our hearts. We fought hard.”
Williams equaled Steffi Graf with five U.S. Open titles, one behind Evert’s record of six in the Open era, which began in 1968. Williams never had won two consecutive U.S. Opens, but now she has, adding to the trophies she earned in New York in 1999 — at age 17 — then 2002 and 2008.
Those go alongside five from Wimbledon, five from the Australian Open, and two from the French Open, which she won this year.
Williams also became the first woman to surpass $9 million in prize money in a single season, while topping $50 million for her career.
No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic faces No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the men’s final Monday. It’s the first time since 1996 that both U.S. Open singles finals are 1-vs.-2 matchups.