NEW YORK – Given all of the setbacks Serena Williams shrugged aside over the years – on tennis courts and, more daunting, away from them – she probably shouldn’t have been worried when she stood two points from losing the U.S. Open final.
And yet, she explained afterward, “I really was preparing my runner-up speech.”
No need for that. When the going gets toughest, Williams tends to shine.
Finally tested, and even trailing, at Flushing Meadows, Williams suddenly found her composure and her strokes, winning the last four games for a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory over top-ranked Victoria Azarenka on Sunday night, collecting a fourth U.S. Open championship and 15th Grand Slam title overall.
“I never give up. I never, never quit,” Williams said after the first three-set U.S. Open women’s final since 1995. “I have come back so many times in so many matches.”
In other ways, too.
She missed eight months 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. Of more concern: Only a few days after winning Wimbledon in 2010, Williams cut both feet on broken glass while leaving a restaurant in Germany, leading to two operations on her right foot. Then she got clots in her lungs and needed to inject herself with a blood thinner. Those shots led to a pool of blood gathering under her stomach’s skin, requiring another procedure in the hospital.
In all, she was off the tour for about 10 months, returning in 2011.
Since losing in the first round at the French Open, Williams is 26-1, including titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open.
“She’s definitely the toughest player, mentally, there is,” said Azarenka, who managed only 13 winners, 31 fewer than Williams. “And she’s got the power.”
Forget what the rankings say. Williams, who was seeded fourth, is dominating the game right now. And she’s been dominant, off and on, for more than a decade.
Amputee ballboy works men’s semi
Ryan McIntosh, the ballperson who lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan, was working the men’s semifinal Sunday between Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer at the U.S. Open.
The 23-year-old McIntosh is an Army specialist. He was walking with his platoon through a river valley near Kandahar in December 2010 when he stepped on a pressure-plate land mine. He now wears a prosthetic right leg.
He learned about the chance to become a U.S. Open ballperson while competing this year at the Warrior Games, an Olympic-style sports festival for wounded soldiers.
McIntosh got good reviews early in the tournament from his supervisor and was rewarded with one of the plum assignments — a key match in Arthur Ashe Stadium on the final weekend.
Denise Castelli, an amputee who also worked last year’s Open, worked Sunday’s women’s final.
Andre Agassi reminisced about that first U.S. Open trip 26 years ago, when he showed up “rocking a spiky, fluffy, two-tone mullet.”
The teenager with a freshly minted driver’s permit caught a bus too late and missed his practice time. He didn’t miss much of anything else in more than two decades of visiting Flushing Meadows.
The two-time winner was inducted Sunday into the U.S. Open Court of Champions at Arthur Ashe Stadium before the women’s final.
“I wish I had the words to describe the sound you make during critical matches, the roar, the applause, the love,” the 42-year-old Agassi told the New York fans during the ceremony. “It’s like a jet engine and a giant heartbeat.”
He competed in the tournament a men’s Open-era record 21 consecutive times, from 1986 through 2006. In 1994, Agassi became the first unseeded player in the Open era to capture the title. He won again in 1999, part of his eight career Grand Slam championships.