Serena Williams lost for only the fourth time this year when her closest rival, Victoria Azarenka, broke her 14-match streak to win the Cincinnati Open on Sunday over three compelling sets, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 in just under two and a half hours.
They go to the US Open with little between them, although the American will again start favourite.
While Williams looked commanding in the first set, the second looked to be swinging on the sixth game, in which she saved seven break-points in an absorbing 18-minute mixture of error and brilliance that took them through 12 deuce points to get back to 2-4. If she had built on that, the match was hers but Azarenka survived a minor blip for 5-2 before serving out to level at a set apiece.
Williams grew stronger in the third but, serving for the match at 5-4, she was broken again and Azarenka held, capitalising on some loose ground strokes by the American, who now had to serve to stay in a match that minutes earlier was in her grasp. She hung on, and they went to the tie-break, where Williams suffered through a fifth double fault.
As is sometimes the way, the loser scored more points than the winner, 104-102, but squandered several promising positions with 58 unforced errors, more than half on her ambitious forehand, which also brought her 18 winners.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © marianne bevis