SERENA Williams is excited about what she can go on to achieve after winning her 17th grand slam singles title at the US Open.
The world No 1 cemented her dominance of the sport with a 7-5, 6-7(6/8), 6-1 victory over Victoria Azarenka in the early hours of yesterday morning to collect her ninth title of the season.
Williams turns 32 later this month but has already played more matches and won more tournaments than in any other year of her career.
She said: “I feel great. I have never felt better. I feel really fit. I can play a tournament like this, singles, doubles, with tough, tough schedules.
“I haven’t felt like this in a number of years. I’m excited about the possibilities. I don’t know what can happen. I’ll just keep playing and do the best that I can.”
Williams is already considered by some people within tennis to be the best of all time, although she is still five singles titles behind Steffi Graf’s Open era record and seven adrift of Margaret Court’s all-time mark.
The American allowed nerves to affect her during the second set against Azarenka, which she lost despite leading 4-1 and twice serving for the match.
Williams believes the two are connected, saying: “When you’re always trying to write history, or join history in my case, maybe you just get a little more nervous than you should.
“I also think it’s kind of cool because it means that it means a lot to you.
“It means a lot to me, this trophy, and every single trophy that I have. It makes me feel that I’m still fighting just to be a part of this fabulous sport.” Williams also picked up prize money of $3.6 million after winning both the title and the US Open series comprising the summer tournaments in North America. That added $1m to her cheque – not that Williams will ever see it.
She said: “Never in my life have I picked up a cheque. I don’t play tennis for the money. I honestly love to play. I love grand slams.
“When I grew up playing tennis in Compton, I just never thought about any of this.
“I think my dad got me into tennis because of the money, but me being naive and silly, I never thought about it. I just thought, ‘I want to win. I want to do what Venus does’.
“I remember back in the day before wiring they used to mail [the cheque] because I just would forget it.
“I’m just really more happy about the opportunity that I had because of my sister, because of Billie Jean King, because of so many pioneers to have an opportunity to win some money like this.”
For Azarenka it was deja vu after she also lost to Williams in the US Open final last year.
The Belarusian had won both their previous matches on hard courts this season in Doha and Cincinnati but could not keep the upper hand going into the third set.
Azarenka said: “I don’t think there was much of a difference. I think the quality of the game and the quality of determination was the same.
“I think this match is a different story to last year. It showed a different, maybe not Serena, but it showed a different me as a player.
“I think that it’s important to just try to go for those chances. I can’t wait for the next chance.”
Azarenka can match Williams for competitive intensity and athleticism, if not quite for power, but the serve is a big difference. Seven double faults hurt Azarenka, while the world No 2 was out-aced nine to two.
“You can always pinpoint what could have been better,” said Azarenka.
“I’m just trying to look overall. Yes, I’m going to try to improve that particular aspect, because the gap between Serena’s serve and my serve is pretty big.
“But I don’t want to compare that because I think she has the best serve of all time. I’m just trying to find the way to raise my level.”
Paying a special tribute to Williams, Azarenka said: “Well, there’s one word. She’s a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. She knows what it takes to get there. I know that feeling, too. And when two people meet who want that feeling so bad, it’s a clash.
“That’s what happens out there with those battles. And in the important moments, it is who is more brave. Who is more consistent. Who takes more risk. You can never play safe.”
Williams was reaching the pinnacle of her career, added Azarenka. “She’s playing definitely her best tennis right now. It really shows how focused and how composed and how much she can raise the level,” she said.
“That’s just exciting for me, to be able to compete against that type of player who can be the greatest of all time. I’m playing against that person in the finals of grand slams.”
Azarenka, still just 24, said she was determined to view her US Open as a positive when she visits her family in Belarus this week.
“You cannot sit and say, ‘Oh my god, this is the worst thing that could have happened to me.’ Because it’s not,” she explained. “I just want to take the positive and see the light at the end of the tunnel.”