American Serena Williams beat top-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 to win the U.S. Open title in New York.

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NEW YORK — After breezing into Sunday’ s U.S. Open final without facing a credible challenge, Serena Williams ran headlong into a woman who hits as hard, competes as fiercely and wanted to win the season’s final major tournament as much as she did.

Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus shook off her first-set jitters to stand up to Williams’ vaunted serve, yanked the American from one side of the court to the other and forced her into a rash of uncharacteristic errors.

But two points from defeat, No. 4 Williams refused to buckle. She reeled off four consecutive games to win 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 and reacted to her fourth U.S. Open title by falling on her back.

“I honestly can’t believe I won,” said Williams, who earned the first of her 15 major singles titles as a 17-year-old in the 1999 U.S. Open. “I was preparing my runner-up speech, she was playing so great.”

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It had been 17 years since a U.S. Open women’s final was forced to three sets, when Steffi Graf defeated Monica Seles in 1995.

Williams held nothing back through good stretches and bad, finishing with 44 winners (to Azarenka’s 13) and 45 unforced errors (to Azarenka’s 28).

In the end, it was Williams’ serve and experience that made the difference.

“She’s definitely the toughest player, mentally, there is,” Azarenka said. “And she’s got the power.”

Williams, 30, improved to 10-1 in matches against Azarenka and has won 44 of her last 46 matches. She is the first woman in her 30s to win the U.S. Open since Martina Navratilova in 1987.

“Serena deserved to win,” Azarenka said during the trophy presentation. “I’m just honored to stand with such a champion here.”

Djokovic, Murray

to play Monday

Defending champ Novak Djokovic, seeded second, reached his third consecutive U.S. Open final, beating No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in a match suspended a day earlier.

Djokovic, who is from Serbia, will face Olympic champion Andy Murray of Britain in Monday’s final. TV coverage is to begin at 1 p.m. PDT on Channel 7.

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