SERENA IS STILL THE QUEEN

By Craig Gabriel

NEW YORK: She has done it all over again. Serena Williams has won the US Open for the second year in a row, for the fifth time overall and made it her 17th career major.

In the longest women’s final since 1980 when the record were first kept, Serena withstood a comeback by Victoria Azarenka to win the title 7-5, 6-7, 6-1. It was a nerve wracking battle played in terribly, windy conditions making it so difficult to control the ball.

The victory is Serena’s 13th from 16 matches with Azarenka and this year their head-to-head now stands at 2-2.

This being her fifth US Open crown, she is now level with Stefanie Graf and one behind the all-time record held by Chris Evert. She is also just one behind Evert and Martina Navratilova in the tally of Grand Slams.

“It’s an honor to be even with Roger (Federer, also on 17),” said Serena. “He’s been such a great champion throughout the years, and he’s just an unbelievable competitor and he’s still playing still, and he can probably still win more.

“So it feels really good to be, you know, in that same league as him.  He’s just been so incredibly consistent, so we have had really different careers.

“Then to be compared with Crissy and Martina, not yet, because I’m still not quite there yet.  I can’t necessarily compare myself to them, because, you know, numbers‑wise they’re still greater.”

The final started with service break exchanges in the first two games but then, from the tenth game of the set, Serena went on a run that brought her five consecutive games which positioned her at 2-0 in the second set. She scored a second break to go up 4-1 when Azarenka double faulted on break point.

Serena served for the title at 5-4 only to send a forehand long on break point. Again she had an opportunity to serve for the US Open two games later but a double fault crept in on break point. Serena led 3-1 in the tiebreaker only to see Azarenka mount another rally and eventually win it 8-6.

“I think I got a little uptight, which probably wasn’t the best thing at that moment,” she said. “I started to try to ‑‑ I wasn’t playing very smart tennis then, so I just had to relax and not do that again. But I did it again.  I don’t know.

“There’s always pressure to defend your title.  I didn’t feel a lot of pressure, but I knew I wanted to win.  But I think, you know, losing a match before I got to the Open actually took a little bit of the pressure that was on me off of me, so it made it a little better.”

Then in the third set Serena started to unleash her best returns and serves once again. The pressure was on Azarenka. She double faulted to go down 1-3, Serena had an ace to hold for 4-1, Azarenka was broken again and now it was 5-1 to the world No.1.

For the third time she served for the US Open. It was third time lucky and she made no mistake closing things when Azarenka sent a backhand long.

As anyone would expect, Serena couldn’t contain her excitement and happiness. This was a big win in very difficult conditions.

Asked what the “x” factor is that defines Serena, Vika Azarenka said: “Well, there’s one word.  She’s a champion, and she knows how to repeat that.  She knows what it takes to get there. When two people who want that feeling so bad meet, it’s like a clash.  That’s what happens out there, those battles.

“And in the important moments it is who is more brave, who is more consistent, or who takes more risk.  And with somebody like Serena you got to take risk.  You can never play safe, because she will do that.  She did that today really well.”