Number one seed to go in as warm favourite ahead of US Open final.
World number one Serena Williams will try to capture her 17th Grand Slam title and become the oldest women’s champion in US Open history in a finals rematch Sunday with second seed Victoria Azarenka.
Williams, who defeated Azarenka in last year’s trophy decider, seeks her fifth US Open crown in her seventh final, her 21st career Grand Slam final, and would be the first top-seeded champion since Justine Henin in 2007.
And she would move her career Slam total just one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for second on the all-time list behind the 22 of Steffi Graf.
“I can’t think about it,” Williams said. “It’s so close but still so far. I have to play a great player and play great tennis.”
Williams, who has lost only 16 games over six matches, could win the title 18 days before her 32nd birthday, making her 293 days older than Australian Margaret Court was when she won the 1973 title to set the current age mark.
And after titles in 1999, 2002, 2008 and last year, Williams could finally claim back-to-back crowns.
“To be able to defend a title for once would be really awesome,” she said.
Not since Williams in 2008 has a US Open champion lifted the trophy without losing a set, but Williams could make it happen Sunday by winning her ninth crown of the year, what would be her career-record title haul for one season.
“I have been really focused,” Williams said. “My practices have been much better than my matches. I set some goals for myself in my matches and I’ve met those goals every time.”
But world number two Azarenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus, sees herself as a more versatile and dangerous player than when she lost to Williams 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the final a year ago.
“There are aspects that got better physically,” Azarenka said. “Mentally I felt like this year was a great turning point for me on some level for my career. I feel like I’m a better player. I’m a more complete player.
“From the groundstrokes to movement to coming in to variety, I think all those little things are coming together, paying a lot more details on how to create a bigger arsenal.”
Azarenka, who won the past two Australian Open titles, seeks a third career Grand Slam title and could become the first woman since Martina Hingis in 1997 to win the US and Australian Opens in the same year.
“You’ve got to fight,” Azarenka said. “You have got to run, you’ve got to grind, and you’ve got to bite with your teeth for whatever opportunity you have. She is an amazing player. She’s the greatest of all time.
“It’s just important to really take my chances because she’s a player who doesn’t give you anything. She’s really, really powerful, so it’s important to try to find a way to be dictating yourself.”
If Williams wins the title, she would receive the $2.6 million first prize plus a $1 million bonus for her performance in US Open tuneup events. The total would boost her above $9 million in season earnings, a women’s record, and boost her career winnings above $50 million.
“Last time I had this opportunity I blew up. It didn’t work out,” Williams said, recalling her 2011 US Open finals loss to Australian Samantha Stosur.
No matter how Sunday turns out, Williams and Azarenka will have combined to win six of eight Grand Slam titles over the past two years, although their only Grand Slam finals matchups in the span have come in New York.
“When you play against Serena, you have to play your best. She makes me play my best. I think I kind of do the same way to her,” Azarenka said.
“We raise each other’s level all the time and take each other to the limit, to go out of that place where you sometimes don’t know how far you can go, but you just still go for it.”
Williams leads the all-time rivalry 12-3 but Azarenka has won two of three matches this year, most recently in last month’s Cincinnati final.
“When she plays me, she plays her best by far,” Williams said.
And Azarenka takes confidence from those wins.
“The battles that we had, it was really just taking each other out of the most comfortable zone and just fight for every ball,” Azarenka said.
Not since Williams and her sister Venus, who lost together in a doubles semi-final Friday night, were in the 2001 and 2002 finals have the same women played in the final in back-to-back years.