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NEW YORK – Fussing with her skirt and flubbing some of her shots, Serena Williams was troubled in the U.S. Open final by the swirling breeze and the strong play of Victoria Azarenka.

After one early miss, Williams declared, “I can’t play in this wind.” After blowing a big lead and dropping the second set, Williams chucked her racket toward the sideline, and it bounced back onto the court.

In the end, the top-ranked Williams pulled herself together, as she usually does when it matters most.

Facing her only serious test of the tournament, the American beat second-seeded Azarenka of Belarus 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1 on Sunday for a fifth championship at Flushing Meadows.

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It was a rematch of last year’s final, also a three-set victory for Williams.

Williams raised her singles-title count in Grand Slam tournaments to 17, sixth all time and one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Williams collected a $3.6 million prize, including a $1 million bonus for producing the best results during the North American summer hardcourt circuit leading up to the U.S. Open.

“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 who want that feeling so bad meet, it’s like a clash,” said Azarenka, pounding her fists together.

Helped by nine aces, one at 126 mph, Williams improved to 67-4 with a career-high nine titles in 2013. Since a first-round exit at the 2012 French Open, she is 98-5 with 14 titles, winning four of the last six Grand Slam events.

“Vika’s such a great opponent, such a great fighter,” said Williams, who turns 32 on Sept. 26, “and that’s why she’s been able to win multiple Grand Slams. That’s why it was never over until match point.”

This one did not come easily, even though it appeared to be nearly over when Williams went ahead by two breaks at 4-1 in the second set. Williams served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 — only to have Azarenka break each time. Williams managed to regroup.

“In the third set, Serena really found a way to calm down and restart from zero and quickly erase what happened,” said her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.


• Top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia and No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain play for the men’s title Monday.