Two points away from defeat, Serena Williams rallied back in the third set on Sunday to beat world No.1 Victoria Azarenka clinching her fourth U.S. Open title and 15th Grand Slam title overall.
"I honestly can't believe I won," Williams said during the trophy presentation after the 2-hour, 18-minute match. "I really was preparing my runner-up speech, because I thought, 'Man, she's playing so great,' "
Williams had 13 aces as she won her fourth U.S. Open championship Sunday with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 defeat of top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. She finished the tournament with 63 aces -- 26 more than any other woman, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Williams also had a serve of 125 miles per hour in the final that was the fastest of the tournament. She tops all women this year in aces (445) as well as winning percentage on serves.
"I'm really shocked," Williams later said about her win.
Her win sure didn't shock 23-year-old Azarenka.
"She never gives up," she said. "She's definitely the toughest player, mentally, there is and she's got the power."
I never, never quit
That's an assessment that Williams herself would agree with.
"I never give up. I never, never quit," Williams said, who won her very first major championship at age 17 at the 1999 U.S. Open. "I have come back so many times in so many matches."
Especially in the match of life. According to Sports Illustrated, she spent eight months away from tennis after having surgery on her left knee in 2003, the year she had completed a self-styled "Serena Slam" by winning four consecutive major titles.
Screenshot via YouTube
Serena Williams posing with her first U.S. Open trophy at age 17.
And a few days after she won Wimbledon in 2010, Williams cut both feet on broken glass while leaving a restaurant in Germany, leading to two operations on her right foot. While recuperating from the surgeries, she got blood clots in her lungs. The injections that treated her blood clots then led to a pooling of blood under her skin, requiring another procedure in the hospital.
She was off the tour for about 10 months, returning in 2011.
"She was so disgusted at home. She felt like she was useless. That's the way it is with athletes, I guess. She couldn't sit still," Williams' mother, Oracene Price said Sunday night, ESPN reported. "She was getting depressed. A lot to overcome."
Indeed, by the time she returned to the tour she was ranked number 200. Since then, she's back on top, ranked number 4 in the world.
I never expected to win all these titles
With Sunday's win, Williams, who turns 31 on Sept. 26, is the first 30-year-old woman to win the U.S. Open since Martina Navratilova in 1987.
Williams also joins older sister Venus and German great Steffi Graf as the only women ever to claim the Wimbledon, Olympic and US Open titles in the same season.
Screenshot via YouTube
Serena Williams celebrates after beating No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka in three sets to win the U.S. Open on Sunday night. (Sept. 9, 2012)
"It's just been fabulous," she said. "I never expected to win all these titles."
Along with collecting the $1.9 million winner's check, Williams became the first women's tennis player to cross $40 million in earnings, ESPN reported. With this U.S. Open singles title and her third round doubles loss, her on-court career earnings alone are now $40,090,142.
No room for a mistake
Shocked by today's win, Williams, who lost the U.S. Open final last year to Australia’s Samantha Stosur, fell onto her back, hands covering her eyes, letting the moment soak in.
She then sat up saying, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" about seven times before leaping over to the players’ box for a kiss from her mother.
Meanwhile, Azarenka sat slumped in her chair, with a white towel covering her head, .
What was going through her mind?
"Being so close, it hurts deeply," she said. "To know you don't have it. You're close; you didn't get it."
She was so close that Azarenka was two points away from victory at 30-all with the fourth-seeded Williams serving in the next game, but she couldn't convert, Sports Illustrated said.
And when Azarenka served for the victory at 5-4, she showed the jitters that probably are understandable given that this was only her second career Grand Slam final, 17 fewer than Williams.
"Feels like there is no room for a mistake," is the way Azarenka described trying to deal with Williams' game. "There is no room for a wrong decision."
Screenshot via YouTube
No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka shown during her game against Serena Williams in the U.S. Open on Sunday night. (Sept. 9, 2012)
But that's exactly what happened. ESPN reports that Azarenka made three errors in that game, including a forehand into the net that let Williams break her to 5-all. If Williams was excited at this point, you couldn't tell, because she kept on her game face. Her older sister, though, seven-time major champion Venus, smiled and clapped in the stands.
This happened during a key stretch in the match in which Williams proceeded to take 10 of 12 points to go ahead 6-5, says ESPN. She then broke again to win, when Azarenka sent a backhand long to end it.
“For me, she’s the greatest player of all time," Azarenka, who will retain her No. 1 world ranking even after the loss, said in a news conference. "She took the game to the next level."
“I feel like even though I’m 30," Williams said, according to the Chronicle. "I feel so young and I’ve never felt as fit and more excited and more hungry.”