Top-ranked Serena Williams wilted just one set away from a breakthrough win at a tournament that has eluded her all her career.
Williams had never won a Cincinnati title. 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. Williams committed 58 unforced errors that turned the momentum.
''I just felt really off this whole week, but I was surprised to be in the final and surprised to be doing well,'' Williams said. ''So I don't know, there's a few factors. I think what matters most was just fighting the whole time and survived to the end.''
The week in Cincinnati provided a preview for the U.S. Open -- both for the men's bracket, where it's more jumbled at the top, and the women's, where it's more settled.
Williams has dominated the female side, 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.
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. This time, Azarenka held on, winning a couple decisive points off Williams' serve in the tiebreaker.
Tournament officials handed her an oversized bottle of champagne when she finished off the 2-hour, 29-minute match. Azarenka was hesitant to pop the cork, until Williams encouraged her. She sprayed the court and took a sip.
''I need to get more practice because I felt like I'm not directing it too well,'' she said.
Williams had won two straight titles since a surprising loss to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Here is the whole winning streak since:
First round -- Def. Sesil Karatantcheva, 6-1, 6-2
Second round -- Def. Anna Tatishvili, 6-2, 6-3
Quarterfinals -- Def. Lourdes Dominguez Lino, 6-1, 6-1
Semifinals -- Def. Klara Zakopalova, 6-0, 6-4
Final -- Def. Johanna Larsson, 6-4, 6-1
Second round -- Def. Francesca Schiavone, 6-3, 6-2
Third round -- Def. Kirsten Flipkens, 6-0, 6-3
Quarterfinals -- Def. Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-1, 6-1
Semifinals -- Def. Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-6 (3), 6-4
Final -- Def. Sorana Cirstea, 6-2, 6-0
Western & Southern Open
Second roung -- Def. Eugenie Bouchard, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2
Third round -- Def. Mona Barthel, 6-4, 6-1
Quarterfinals -- Def. Simona Halep, 6-0, 6-4
Semifinals -- Def. Li Na, 7-5, 7-5