September 9, 2013
Serena Williams overcame a feisty Victoria Azarenka and a rebellious dress to claim the US crown 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1 at Flushing Meadows.
To tennis-lovers, this will live long in the memory as one of the great women’s showdowns. A sporting war of attrition, with neither gladiator willing to give up, even when they could feel themselves slipping towards oblivion, until finally Azarenka had no more to give.
To dedicated followers of fashion it will also be fondly remembered…as the “what-not-to-wear-final.” Both women were unquestionably guilty of crimes against sportswear. In the end the fashion faux-pas didn’t matter because the quality of tennis shone through gloriously.
What a first set! Those of us who thought Azarenka would be unable to live with Williams at any stage of the match did her a total disservice. Indeed for most of the opening set Azarenka was the one who looked to be in just the right place mentally. Serena was so nervous she complained she couldn’t breathe. And having worn that tight and restrictive sponsor’s jacket for the knock-up, it was hardly surprising. Then there was the farcical problem of that fluttering, upwardly flapping dress. A parachute couldn’t have caught the wind more effectively, and all that billowing blew Williams off course for some time.
Somehow she overcame these self-inflicted distractions to out-gun her opponent in the end. It was a measure of Serena’s enduring quality that she was able to do so. Her cross-court geometry, hopelessly wayward early on, came good when it mattered. The hunger and sheer force, despite her thirty-one years, replaced self-doubt.
What a second set! Azarenka crumbled to 1-4, as some of us had wrongly predicted she would from the start of the match. Then she came right back again to keep the result in doubt. It made for the kind of drama we’d hoped for – especially when Victoria broke Serena twice to keep herself in the match and force that second-set tie-break. When she won it, we knew how lucky we were to be treated to an extra helping of breathtaking combat. Williams responded when she needed to. In its last, dramatic games the women’s final was back on script, entertaining as those many deviations had been.
Serena set up victory with a stunning lob and jumped for joy when it was over.
Well done Miss Williams, no one deserves to be champion more than you. Well done Victoria, a wonderful finalist and worthy world number two.
Both women were inspirational in ways they hadn’t expected. As someone whose lack of dress sense can compete with even the most extreme cases, I’m off to discover whether it’s not too late for me to earn a living in tennis too.