Top-ranked Serena Williams wilted just one set away from a breakthrough win at a tournament that has eluded her all her career.
Williams had never won a Cincinnati title. She was trying for her second championship in two weeks, fresh off her championship in Toronto.
She dominated the first set, then fell apart, giving No. 2 Victoria Azarenka a chance to rally for a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6) win that ended Williams’ 14-match winning streak. Williams committed 58 unforced errors that turned the momentum.
”I just felt really off this whole week, but I was surprised to be in the final and surprised to be doing well,” Williams said. ”So I don’t know, there’s a few factors. I think what matters most was just fighting the whole time and survived to the end.”
The week in Cincinnati provided a preview for the U.S. Open — both for the men’s bracket, where it’s more jumbled at the top, and the women’s, where it’s more settled.
Williams has dominated the female side, going 60-4 this season. She has never done well in Cincinnati, and was eager to win on Sunday for a career-best ninth title of the season. All the statistics were in her favor — a 12-2 career record against Azarenka, including that U.S. Open title last year.
She won the first set in 26 minutes, dropping only 11 points. Then, she got sloppy in a second set that bogged down. The sixth game went to deuce 12 times before Williams held serve on the 30th point. Williams appeared to wear down and lost the set 6-2.
It was reminiscent of their finals match at the U.S. Open last year, when Williams took the last four games to win 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. This time, Azarenka held on, winning a couple decisive points off Williams’ serve in the tiebreaker.
Tournament officials handed her an oversized bottle of champagne when she finished off the 2-hour, 29-minute match. Azarenka was hesitant to pop the cork, until Williams encouraged her. She sprayed the court and took a sip.
”I need to get more practice because I felt like I’m not directing it too well,” she said.
Williams had won two straight titles since a surprising loss to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Here is the whole winning streak since: