Serena Williams comes into the U.S. Open off a loss.
And you can bet the ultra-competitive tennis superstar is hungry to avenge it.
For that to happen, No. 1-seeded Serena would need to meet No. 2 Victoria Azarenka in the women’s final for the second straight year.
Azarenka took out Serena in three sets in the recent final of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and won’t back down from the 16-time major winner if they meet again under the Arthur Ashe Stadium lights.
“I’m definitely really excited,” said Williams, who beat Azarenka in three sets to win the 2012 U.S. Open championship and opens defense of her title Monday night against Francesca Schiavone at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “Every time I lose, I get so pumped afterwards and I just feel that way. I just feel like now I’m ready; now I’m prepared. I almost needed that to take my game to a new level.”
With Maria Sharapova out of the tournament because of a shoulder injury, the women’s draw looks like a two-person race.
Serena is 60-4 in 2013 and holds a 12-3 career record against Azarenka, but two of those losses came this year.
“It gives you great confidence,” said Azarenka, whose two career major championships came at the Australian Open in 2012 and ’13. “But I always think that the new week is the new story. You can always take the best out of what happened last week and, you know, six months ago.
“So I will definitely take that into consideration, but the new week, U.S. Open, Serena No. 1 player in the world, defending champion here, we all start kind of from zero here.”
Said Williams: “I think the head to head is close, but I think it’s just always good to play such great players like Victoria who really plays well and makes me lift my game to a new level.”
With 16 career majors singles titles, Williams ranks sixth all time, and is just two behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who won 18 apiece.
If she adds a 17th major title in New York, Williams could tie and then pass those two legends in 2014.
“I’m always thinking about the Grand Slams,” Williams said. “I’m always thinking about, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to get to the Open,’ or, ‘Gosh, I can’t wait to go to Australia.’ There are different memories that pop up in my mind. The Open, I just see Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Each slam has different memories. It’s special.”
WOMEN TO WATCH …
Serena Williams (No. 1 seed) — The 16-time Grand Slam champion is the defending champ and favorite to win her fifth Flushing Meadows title.
Victoria Azarenka (No. 2 seed) — With two victories over Serena in 2013, Azarenka’s confidence is soaring heading into New York, where she lost in three close sets to Williams in last year’s final.
Samantha Stosur (No. 11 seed) — The Australian won the championship here in 2011, beating Williams in the final, but enters with just a 28-17 record in 2013.
Sloane Stephens (No. 15 seed) — The 20-year-old American reached the semifinals at the Australian Open, beating Williams in the process, and the quarters at Wimbledon.
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for updates throughout the U.S. Open.