'Greatest ever' Serena my blueprint, says Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka hailed Serena Williams as the greatest player of all time and vowed to learn from suffering a chastening 10th defeat in 11 meetings with the American veteran in the US Open final.

Williams captured a fourth title here yesterday to take her career majors total to 15 with a 6-2 2-6 7-5 victory, the first women's final to go the distance in 17 years.

"For me, she's the greatest player of all time. She has taken the game to the next level," said 23-year-old Azarenka, who was just 10 when Williams won her first US Open as a teenager in 1999.

"But I have to be positive because I feel like these kind of matches, every time I play Serena, it really pushes me to be better, to improve, to move forward. I have to be thankful to her for that."

Azarenka has only beaten Williams once -- in the 2009 Miami final -- with seven of her defeats coming in the majors.

Yesterday's match represented her fourth loss to Williams in 2012 alone. "She makes me all the time make sure that I'm taking my game, my personality, my physical aspect to the next level," said Azarenka.

"Having few of the players like that in the women's tour is something priceless, something that you cannot take away. It's the people who like Maria (Sharapova), like Petra (Kvitova) those kind of girls, they always push me to be better.

"Today I was close. I'm going to have another opportunity to make something better. That's what I'm looking for."

There was a time not so long ago when Williams wondered if she might ever play again, much less recapture her championship form.

Williams battled back from a right foot injury that kept her from playing in the 2010 US Open and battled blood clots last year that jeopardised more than her career.

She fought back into form earlier this year but crashed out of the French Open with a first-round loss to Virginie Razzano, her worst-ever Grand Slam performance and her only 2012 loss in 50 matches where she won the first set.

"I have never been so miserable after a loss," Williams said. "I felt like I lost a little confidence after that. But finally I pulled it together.

"A champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall. I've fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I dust myself off and I pray and I'm able to get back to the level that I want to be on.

"So I feel really awesome I've been able to do that."

Since then, Williams has gone 26-1 with Wimbledon and US Open titles and an Olympic gold medal.

While Azarenka will remain World No. 1 in Monday's new WTA world rankings, Williams has showed beyond all doubt she is for now the true queen of tennis.

"Without doubt, she's the best player in the world right now regardless of what the WTA rankings say," Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who has worked closely with Williams since her French Open loss, told AFP.

"I knew she was capable of doing what she did today, but that doesn't make it any less exceptional. There was more pressure on her here than anywhere else, 100 times as much. She refuses to accept defeat."

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