Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Victoria Azarenka in the women's singles final.
(Photo: Jerry Lai, USA TODAY Sports)
NEW YORK -- Serena Williams spent most of the U.S. Open making everything look simple, cruising through her first six matches and dropping just 16 games total. She was broken just twice.
In Sunday's final against a scrappy Victoria Azarenka, nothing came easy. Williams eventually won 7-6, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1.
"Victoria, you played unbelievable," Williams told Azarenka on the court after the match. "What a great match. ... It was an honor to play you."
Williams continued: "Vika's such a great opponent. She's such a fighter. ... It was never over until match point."
Williams collects the largest prize money check in women's sports, $3.6 million, $2.6 million for the Open title plus a $1 million bonus as the winner of the US Open Series.
First, there was the wind, blustering and swirling all evening, even blowing Williams'dress around at times when she was trying to serve. Her groundstrokes were inconsistent at times, missing by feet when she typically misses by inches (if at all). Whether it was the weather or nerves, Williams appeared rattled.
Most important - and for the first time all tournament - Williams looked beatable.
Azarenka certainly thought so, never relenting at any point in the match, even when she was down a set. Even when she was down a set and two breaks. And Azarenka did, evening the match at a set apiece in a second set tiebreak.
Williams twice served for the match in that second set, at 5-4 and 6-5, and both times the owner of the best serve in women's tennis history was broken.
During those service games and in the subsequent tiebreak, Williams complained about the wind. Her shots would go long, and she would throw her hands up. Down 6-4 in the tiebreak, Williams threw her racquet to the ground, partly frustrated by the wind and partly flabbergasted that she hadn't won the match yet.
The third set - Williams' first three-setter of the entire tournament - proved easier. Williams broke Azarenka's serve twice, and she successfully served out the match.
The win caps off one of the best years of Williams' career, in which she went 67-4 and won nine tournaments. She won the 2013 French Open as well; with the U.S. Open title, she now has 17 Grand Slam singles championships, one behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time list.
Sunday's final was a rematch of last year's final, one Williams won, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 - another three-set instant classic.