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CINCINNATI — Rafael Nadal extended his sizzling summer with a first-time title. One set away from a breakthrough of her own, No. 1 Serena Williams wilted.
Nadal took advantage of the few openings he got against John Isner on Sunday, grinding out a 7-6 (8), 7-6 (3) win at the Western & Southern Open that added yet another title to his sensational summer.
The 27-year-old Spaniard won the championship in Montreal a week ago and has back-to-back hard-court championships for the first time in his illustrious career. He'd never even reached the finals in Cincinnati.
When his backhand down the line finished it off, Nadal flopped on his back and screamed.
"It means a lot winning two straight titles on hard [courts]," Nadal said. "It's just amazing for me. I never did something like this in my career. So it was an emotional moment."
Williams had never won a Cincinnati title, either. Like Nadal, she was trying for her second championship in two weeks, fresh off her championship in Toronto.
She dominated the first set, then fell apart, giving No. 2 Victoria Azarenka a chance to rally for a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6) win that ended Williams' 14-match winning streak. It was reminiscent of their finals match at the U.S. Open last year, when Williams took the last four games to win 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
The week in Cincinnati provided a preview for the U.S. Open, with the men's bracket more jumbled at the top.
"I would say Rafa is the favorite going to the U.S.," Isner said. "Clear-cut? I wouldn't say that. I think he'd probably say the same."
On the women's side, Williams has dominated, going 60-4 this season. She has never done well in Cincinnati, and was eager to win on Sunday for a career-best ninth title of the season. All the statistics were in her favor — a 12-2 career record against Azarenka, including that U.S. Open title last year.
She won the first set in 26 minutes, dropping only 11 points. Then, she got sloppy in a second set that bogged down. The sixth game went to deuce 12 times before Williams held serve on the 30th point.
Williams appeared to wear down and lost the set 6-2.
Williams broke Azarenka and took the decisive set to a tiebreaker. She led 5-4, then lost the next two points off her serve, allowing Azarenka to finish it off in 2 hours, 29 minutes.