NEW YORK -- Serena Williams' big lead in the U.S. Open final suddenly was gone.

Her serve was shaky. Her hard-hitting opponent, Victoria Azarenka, was presenting problems, and so was the gusting wind. A couple of foot-fault calls added to the angst.

As a jittery Williams headed to the sideline after dropping a set for the first time in the tournament, she chucked her racket, which ricocheted onto the court.

When play resumed, in the crucible of a third set, Williams put aside everything and did what she does best: She came through in the clutch to win a major match. Facing her only test of the past two weeks, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame No. 2 Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday for her 17th Grand Slam championship.

"When you're always trying to write history, or join history in my case, maybe you just get a little more nervous than you should. I also think it's kind of cool, because it means that it means a lot to you. It means a lot to me, this trophy," Williams said, pointing her right hand at her fifth silver cup from the U.S. Open, "and every single trophy that I have."

That collection keeps growing.

Williams has won twice in a row at Flushing Meadows -- beating Azarenka in three sets each time -- and four of the past six major tournaments overall. Her 17 titles are the sixth-most in history for a woman, only one behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and the same total as the men's record-holder, Roger Federer.

"It feels really good to be in that same league as him," said Williams, who earned $3.6 million in prize money.

This one did not come easily, even though it appeared to be nearly over when Williams went ahead by two breaks at 4-1 in the second set. She served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 -- only to have the gutsy Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, break each time.

"I got a little uptight, which probably wasn't the best thing at that moment," Williams said. "I wasn't playing very smart tennis then, so I just had to relax and not do that again."

So after the second set, Williams gave herself a pep talk. She regrouped and regained control.

"She's a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. She knows what it takes to get there," Azarenka said.