NEW YORK -- Serena Williams' big lead in the U.S. Open final suddenly was gone.

Her serve was shaky. Her hard-hitting opponent, Victoria Azarenka, was presenting problems, and so was the gusting wind. A couple of foot-fault calls added to the angst.

As a jittery Williams headed to the sideline after dropping a set for the first time in the tournament, she chucked her racket, which ricocheted onto the court.

When play resumed, in the crucible of a third set, Williams put aside everything and did what she does best: She came through in the clutch to win a major match. Facing her only test of the past two weeks, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame No. 2 Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday for her 17th Grand Slam championship.

"When you're always trying to write history, or join history in my case, maybe you just get a little more nervous than you should. I also think it's kind of cool, because it means that it means a lot to you. It means a lot to me, this trophy," Williams said, pointing her right hand at her fifth silver cup from the U.S. Open, "and every single trophy that I have."

Williams has won twice in a row at Flushing Meadows -- beating Azarenka in three sets each time -- and four of the past six major tournaments overall. Her 17 titles are the sixth-most in history for a woman, only one behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and the same total as the men's record-holder, Roger Federer.

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. She served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 -- only to have the gutsy Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, break each time.

A year ago, they played the first three-set women's final in New York since 1995. This time, they went the distance again, a total of 2 hours, 45 minutes, because Azarenka was superior in the tiebreaker.

So after the second set, Williams gave herself a pep talk.

She regrouped and regained control.

Azarenka helped a bit, with two of her seven double-faults coming when she got broken to trail 3-1 in the third.

That pretty much sealed it, because Williams was not about to falter again.

"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," Azarenka said, pounding her fists together.

Williams equaled Steffi Graf with five U.S. Open titles, one behind Evert's record of six in the Open era, which began in 1968. Williams never had won two consecutive U.S. Opens, but now she has, adding to the trophies she earned in New York in 1999 -- at age 17 -- then 2002 and 2008.

Those go alongside five from Wimbledon, five from the Australian Open, and two from the French Open, which she won this year.

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