Victory long hoped for comes to pass

In the finals of the BNP Paribas Open Premier series in American Indian Wells, Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenko defeats world number one seed Serena Williams
In the finals of the BNP Paribas Open Premier series in American Indian Wells, Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenko defeats world number one seed Serena Williams

Victoria Azarenko at her best in American Indian Wells

The Indian Wells finals were of major importance to both sportswomen. Ms. Williams has lost here only twice. However, this season, she’s admitted that it’s becoming more of a challenge for her to remain world number one seed. The American added that she was surprised by her performance in the Indian Wells finals.

Ms. Azarenko’s previous two seasons have been problematic, with the loss of her top world seeding (for which she struggled against Ms. Williams). It hasn’t been the brightest page in her career, due to injury and other difficulties. She dropped down to the third dozen in the rankings, leaving her feeling angry and frustrated with herself. With this in mind, the meeting between Vika and Serena at Indian Wells was laden with meaning.

Serena was also angry, being unused to losing (especially on her ‘home’ court). Accordingly, the American was out of sorts, and lost her temper, giving a performance far from exemplary. German Laura Siegemund, Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putinseva and Ukraine’s Yekaterina Bondarenko were among her main rivals, being in the top 100, but all are ranked far below Serena. Even Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska are hardly her equals, despite being higher ranked. They have never managed to defeat Serena so Ms. Halep’s success at Indian Wells seemed less than a serious threat.

Victoria Azarenko shows her mettle

Bookmakers and analysts failed to agree on Ms. Azarenko’s odds, despite Victoria having defeated Serena in the past (even more often than her sister Venus or any other sportswoman in history). She has always proved herself well motivated in playing Serena, with the outcome dependent more on the state of their nervous and psyche than any skill. This proved the decisive factor in the final ‘game, set, match’.

Serena lost the first set to Vika 0:4, but it was no catastrophe. In their 21-match history, the American has lost up to three games per match. Moreover, Ms. Azarenko has lost matches seemingly initially ‘in the bag’ in the past.  However, the situation was different this time. Serena’s eyes told the full story, being often broadcast in close focus. To date, she has only broken racquets a couple of times, and never while moving to the other side of the court. In this single match, she broke two, smashing them onto the concrete without even taking them out of their cases, for which she received a penalty point. The two played on ‘equal points’ until Serena became a truly angry tiger, smashing balls into the court.

Ms. Azarenko now claims four victories against Serena and the recent Indian Wells finals may be the most important in her career. In two weeks’ time, we may more objectively assess the role of this victory, as the next tournament, in Miami will have finished. It was there that Ms. Azarenko defeated Serena for the first time, in 2009. Irrespective of its result, there can be no doubt that Victoria has turned a corner. She now occupies 8th ranking and no one can say what may happen next.

By Igor Leshin
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