Australian Open: Azarenka d. Radwanska

by: | January 23, 2012

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VaMELBOURNE—There was a lot going on in today’s quarterfinal between Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska: a contrast in styles, plenty of breaks, a momentum swing every three minutes, well-stung winners followed by fumbled errors, and a full-on meltdown from each player. But what the match came down to was simple: How would Azarenka’s hard-hitting attack measure up against Radwanska’s clever craft and defense? In the end, the answer was: Pretty well. After an up-and-down first set, in which Radwanska outwitted and out-defended her, Azarenka ran away with the last two, qualifying for her second Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-7 (0), 6-0, 6-2 win. She ended it in style, by powering an authoritative, and sonically satisfying, overhead past Radwanska at match point.

In hindsight, we can see that Azarenka has been working toward this moment for the better part of the last year. She has tried hard to control her strong emotions, without burying them so deeply that she loses her competitive fire on court. After a shaky first set that concluded with an error-filled, 0-7 meltdown in the tiebreaker, Azarenka settled easily into an assertive mental groove.

The match was on her racquet; Azarenka routinely took her shots from inside the baseline, and had good swings at Radwanska’s weak second serves. It was a matter of the Belarussian executing, and having the patience to construct points assuming that her opponent was going to get a lot of balls back. Azarenka passed this psychological test with flying colors. As the match progressed, she began to read Radwanska’s drop shots, and to work the rallies so she could find the open court without taking huge risks. Azarenka’s backhand was the decider. Aga, while a rare natural talent, has no point-ending shot to match it. Azarenka finished with 39 winners to Radwanska’s 16, while making just seven more unforced errors.

It was the calmer Radwanska who struggled mentally—she was too calm compared to her opponent, and very quick to get down on herself when things went south in the second set. Getting killed on her second serve, she tried to hit her first one in safely, and got killed on that, too. Radwanska won just 47 percent of points on her first serve, and an abysmal 29 pecent on her second. She was broken 10 times, and spent most of the last two sets with her shoulders slumped and face scrunched in annoyance and frustration.

Azarenka moves on to face the winner of Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters. She has, judging from the evidence provided today, everything she needs to go farther.

Steve Tignor

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