NEW YORK -- Fussing with her skirt and flubbing her shots, Serena Williams was troubled in the U.S. Open final by the swirling air and the strong play of Victoria Azarenka.
After one miss, Williams declared, "I can't play in this wind." After blowing a big second-set lead, Williams chucked her racket toward the sideline, and it bounced back onto the court.
In the end, Williams pulled herself together, as she usually does when it matters the most. 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 for a fifth championship at Flushing Meadows and second in a row.
Williams, who turns 32 on Sept. 26, raised her Grand Slam singles title count to 17, the sixth-most in history and one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Williams 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.
Helped by nine aces, one at 126 mph, Williams improved to 67-4 with a career-best nine titles in 2013. 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.
"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."
Yes, this one did not come easily, even though it appeared to be nearly over when Williams went ahead by two breaks at 4-1 in the second set. Williams served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 -- only to have the gutsy Azarenka break each time.
This was a rematch of last year's final, also won by Williams in three sets, and two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka provided another challenge with her big swings off both wings.
"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 also became the first woman to surpass $9 million in prize money in a single season, while topping $50 million for her career.