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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

Tennis

Serena shrugs off Graf chase in US Open showdown
AFP
New York, September 08, 2013
First Published: 08:31 IST(8/9/2013)
Last Updated: 08:33 IST(8/9/2013)

World number one Serena Williams insists she is not thinking about Steffi Graf's all-time record of 22 majors ahead of her US Open final showdown against Victoria Azarenka on Sunday.

The 31-year-old American will try to capture her 17th Grand Slam title and become the oldest women's champion in US Open history in a repeat of last year's final which she won in three sets.

Williams seeks her fifth US Open crown in her seventh final, her 21st career Grand Slam final, and would be the first top-seeded champion since Justine Henin in 2007.

And she would move her career Slam total just one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for second on the all-time list behind the 22 of retired German star Graf.

"I can't think about it," Williams said. "It's so close but still so far. I have to play a great player and play great tennis."

Williams, who has lost only 16 games over six matches, could win the title 18 days before her 32nd birthday, making her 293 days older than Australian Margaret Court was when she won the 1973 title to set the current age mark.

And after titles in 1999, 2002, 2008 and last year, Williams could finally claim back-to-back crowns.

"To be able to defend a title for once would be really awesome," she said.

Not since Williams in 2008 has a US Open champion lifted the trophy without losing a set, but Williams could make it happen Sunday by winning her ninth crown of the year, what would be her career-record title haul for one season.

"I have been really focused," Williams said. "My practices have been much better than my matches. I set some goals for myself in my matches and I've met those goals every time."

But world number two Azarenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus, sees herself as a more versatile and dangerous player than when she lost to Williams 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the final a year ago.

"There are aspects that got better physically," Azarenka said. "Mentally I felt like this year was a great turning point for me on some level for my career. I feel like I'm a better player. I'm a more complete player.

"From the groundstrokes to movement to coming in to variety, I think all those little things are coming together, paying a lot more details on how to create a bigger arsenal."

Azarenka, who won the past two Australian Open titles, seeks a third career Grand Slam title and could become the first woman since Martina Hingis in 1997 to win the US and Australian Opens in the same year. 

If Williams wins the title, she would receive the $2.6 million first prize plus a $1 million bonus for her performance in US Open tuneup events. The total would boost her above $9 million in season earnings, a women's record, and boost her career winnings above $50 million.

"Last time I had this opportunity I blew up. It didn't work out," Williams said, recalling her 2011 US Open finals loss to Australian Samantha Stosur.

No matter how Sunday turns out, Williams and Azarenka will have combined to win six of eight Grand Slam titles over the past two years, although their only Grand Slam finals matchups in the span have come in New York.

"When you play against Serena, you have to play your best. She makes me play my best. I think I kind of do the same way to her," Azarenka said.

"We raise each other's level all the time and take each other to the limit, to go out of that place where you sometimes don't know how far you can go, but you just still go for it."

Williams leads the all-time rivalry 12-3 but Azarenka has won two of three matches this year, most recently in last month's Cincinnati final.


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