For the third year in a row, Serena Williams is the U.S. Open champion. Her 6-3, 6-3 win over 10th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki makes her the second woman to win this title six times, and the second to complete a three-peat. She also moves into second place on the all-time wins list, joining Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert with 18 Slam titles. Only one woman, Steffi Graf, has more.
Wearing a black and white leopard print outfit with a hot pink headband, Williams didn't seem bothered by the pressure of winning title No. 18. "Whatever happens, I'm just gonna have fun," she said in the tunnel, just before making her way onto the court. At match point, she threw her racket aside and collapsed on the court, looking as grateful as the first time she accomplished this feat.
"I have been trying to reach it for so long, since last year," she said after the match. "I didn't really think would I get there."
Williams held serve in the first game, then broke Wozniacki with the help of two double faults to take a 2-0 lead. From there, they traded breaks. Throughout marathon rallies, Wozniacki seemed on the defensive, standing more than two feet behind the line while Williams bounced in front of her line. In the fifth game, it was Williams double faulting twice as Wozniacki broke her. But she came right back, converting another break before holding serve at 4-2 and again at 5-3.
In the intermission, the scoreboard cameras panned the crowd, showing Spike Lee, Gladys Knight, Debra Messing, and about a dozen other stars in attendance, all hoping to see Williams make history.
By the second set, Wozniacki looked deflated. Williams again started with a break, for the 2-0 lead. It took Wozniacki until the ninth game, trailing 3-5, to hit a non-ace winner.
Williams, 32, had already been on the tour for a decade when Wozniacki, 24, turned pro. Winning the U.S. Open title last year made her the oldest woman to win in New York; she's already won more titles in her 30s than any other woman. Steffi Graf, by comparison, won all 22 of her titles before her 30th birthday.
Many wondered if her career was on the decline as she struggled throughout the 2014 season, failing to make the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam in the first three opportunities this year. Despite her poor showings in the Slams, Williams won five singles events, a strong showing by most standards. But this was Serena, a woman who has dominated her sport for nearly 15 years and is thus held to a higher standard. She arrived in New York saying she was relaxed, but everyone else seemed to think she had something to prove.
Williams made quick work of her first two rounds, finishing each in less than an hour. In the third round, she needed one hour and 35 minutes to defeat Varvara Lepchenko, the third fellow American she faced in as many matches. Her fourth round, quarterfinal and semifinal wins barely passed the one hour mark; she didn't drop a single set leading into the final.
Wozniacki, meanwhile, spent more than 10 hours on court. Two of her wins came through opponents retiring, including the semifinal. Her toughest match came in the round of 16, where she upset No. 5 Maria Sharapova. She came into the final looking for her first career Grand Slam title and first win over a reigning world No. 1. She was the runner-up here in 2009, losing to Kim Clijsters in the final, and has played in 31 Slams without a title.
With the straight-sets win Sunday, Williams became the first woman to win the U.S. Open without dropping a set since she did it in 2008. She also did it in 2002. Her winning span has gone on longer than that of any woman before her: She won her first title at 17, a good 15 years ago.
She has made it to 18 titles with fewer Grand Slam finals losses than any other woman; Graf had nine finals losses, Navratilova 14 and Evert 16. Williams earned $3-million for winning the title, as well as a $1-million bonus as the winner of the Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Bonus Challenge this summer.
As the celebration continued at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, Navratilova and Evert met Williams at the center of the court to officially welcome her to the 18 wins club. They gifted her an 18-carat gold bracelet with the number 18 etched on a circular pendant, and all stood together, beaming, as photographers all jostled for the best shot.
"It means a lot to me," she said. "I just could never have imagined that I would be mentioned with Chris Evert or with Martina Navratilova, because I was just a kid with a dream and a racket. Living in Compton, you know, this never happened before."
Of winning 18, she said, "It was definitely on my shoulders. It was definitely like, 'Oh, get there, get there, get there.' Now I've gotten there, so now it's a little bit of a relief."
But with winning 18, naturally, comes questions of when she will win 22, or 23, and claim the top of the all-time list. First, though, she's looking to 19.
"I am thinking about 19, which I'm kind of disappointed," she said with a smile. "[It] hasn't even been three hours and I'm already -- I have already mentioned 19. Oh, gosh. So, yeah, but not 22. I'm taking it one at a time."