In the first set, Serena, 31, played some of her worst tennis of the 2013 U.S. Open. She was looking tentative and nowhere near the force of nature fans have seen all tournament and in the buildup to the Open. According to the tournament's official site, she had 15 unforced errors in that first set alone and won just 44 percent of her second-serve points.
When Azarenka was on serve in the first set, she was near unbeatable. The Belarusian won 53 percent of her points on first serve, which is good enough when going against a player the caliber of Williams. Even when having to take a second serve, the No. 2 seed was having her way (h/t Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline):
Azarenka is winning 80% of her second serve points. That's less than ideal for Serena. #usopen— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) September 8, 2013
However, as bad as Williams was, she didn't dig herself into too deep a hole. She did just enough.
If you would have just watched the match without seeing any sort of score, you would have guessed Azarenka was dominating and getting the better of the match. Instead, as Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim pointed out, Williams stayed in the set.
the bad news for Serena: she's looks thoroughly discombobulated and lacking in rhythm. The good news: it's 5-5.— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) September 8, 2013
Here was the point Serena needed to take the first set:
Wertheim took a comment from one of his readers to properly convey the disparity between the two players.
Appropriating a line from a reader: So far, Serena's "eh" game > Azarenka's A-game….7-5— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) September 8, 2013
Williams started the second set very hot, jumping out to a 4-1 lead. Her serve was much more of a weapon, and everybody knows exactly how great and powerful her first serve can be. It's almost impossible for your opponent to win when you're pulling off aces like this:
Azarenka continued to hang around, though, and pushed the set to a tiebreak after being down 4-1. It was a tremendous comeback, as she broke Williams three times.
Equally as shocking as the underdog's comeback was the way Serena reverted back to her early match form. It was the second serve again letting Serena down, as she only won 44 percent of her second serve points for the second consecutive set. She was laboring much more and her footwork and movement were lacking, severely affecting her shots.
The 24-year-old Azarenka didn't let up and was the far more composed player.
The second set was a thing to behold. You had everything—momentum swings, great shots, unexplainable misses, service breaks, racket smashes.
Just when you thought either Williams was going to lock up the win, Azarenka would stay alive. Conversely, when Azarenka looked sure to push the match to a third set, Williams found it within herself to avoid the ignominy of losing the set after having been in the driver's set for so long.
Grantland's Brian Phillips thought the match was better than anything you could see on the football field.
I realize a lot of you will process this as [not NFL] [not NFL] [not NFL] but this tennis has gotten amazing; maybe check it out.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) September 8, 2013
Eventually, Azarenka was able to win the tiebreak and pull off the improbable.
When Williams got up 4-1 again in the third, you wondered if it was going to be deja vu all over again. Instead, she won the sixth game to go up 5-1 and essentially shut the door on another Azarenka comeback to secure her second consecutive U.S. Open title and 17th overall Grand Slam.