NEW YORK — In a departure from the normally unpredictable results in women’s tennis, Sunday afternoon will have a pronounced “same time, same place” air to it when No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka face off in the US Open final for the second consecutive year.
Williams won last year’s final in a thriller, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, after Azarenka had served for the championship at 5-4 in the third set.
The last time there was a repeat in the women’s final at the Open was in 2001, when Serena Williams defeated her sister Venus. The previous year, Venus was the victor.
Rematches have been uncommon on the women’s side given the large number of players who have made the finals of majors in recent years.
Williams improved her record against Azarenka to 10-1 with her victory in last year’s final. But Azarenka managed to get a foothold in the rivalry this year, beating Williams in two of their three matches.
Both her victories came in three sets and on hardcourts, at WTA events in Doha, Qatar, in February and Cincinnati four weeks ago. The match in Cincinnati was something of a flip of their match in New York last year, with Williams serving for the match in the third set before Azarenka broke her and eventually won.
If Azarenka, a Belarusian, can beat her a third time Sunday, she will become the first player to beat Williams three times in one year since Justine Henin in 2007.
“I don’t know,” Azarenka said of the key to her recent success against Williams. “I just really try to play my best tennis, you know. 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, you know. I think we kind of raise each other’s level all the time and, as I say, take each other to the limit.”
Asked if she agreed with Azarenka’s statement that they brought out the best in each other, Williams said she believed she brought out the best in Azarenka, but that was as far as she went.
“I definitely feel like when she plays me she plays her best, by far,” Williams said. “I have seen her play other players, and when I play her I’m playing a totally different player. Obviously she brings her best game, yeah.”
Sam Sumyk, Azarenka’s coach, said he believes she prepares for matches in a way that does not allow Williams’s powerful presence and previous accomplishments to intimidate her.
“We don’t really pay attention about Serena, and whoever is in front of us,” he said. “Vika is just trying to do her own thing, and do it the best as possible. And if that ends up to be a good match and a win, well, great.”
Williams insisted, though, that there was a significant difference between playing her in a Grand Slam final and playing in locales like Qatar and Ohio where she had lost to Azarenka this year.
“Different energy, different opportunities,” Williams said. “This is for a Grand Slam. I mean, she’s trying to win yet another one; I’m trying to win one myself. It’s just different timing.”
Sumyk asserted that the wins against Williams had been well earned, even on the tour’s smaller stages.
“I think it’s hard to beat her anywhere,” Sumyk said of Williams.
“I don’t think Serena wants to lose against anybody. I think she always wants to make a statement. So it doesn’t matter where it is, really. She never wants to lose against anybody else.”
Based on form in this tournament, Williams would seem to enter this match as a very heavy favorite.
She has lost only 16 games in her six matches so far at the tournament, while Azarenka has lost 40, and has frequently struggled to hold her serve.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’s coach, warned against reading too much into either player’s current form.
“I agree that she’s playing really good tennis, but we have to be really careful not to be overconfident, especially before playing Victoria,” Mouratoglou said. “I’ve said it before: she’s always able to play her best tennis in the big matches, especially against the best players, like Serena.”