Sydney: Azarenka d. Jankovic

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 /by

VikaThe "Happy Slam" starts next week, but Victoria Azarenka has to be feeling a little giddy about her game right now. Unleashing a series of shrieking drives in a declarative five-game surge, Azarenka muted Jelena Jankovic, 6-4, 6-2, to advance to the Sydney quarterfinals.

In a match played primarily from the baseline, Azarenka dug out of early deficits in both sets by bullying the former world No. 1 around the court with the depth and pace of her groundstrokes, and her skill in taking sudden strikes up the line.

The third-seeded Belarusian blasted successive aces in her opening service game only to see Jankovic respond with a break to take a 2-0 lead. Shrugging off the early struggle, Azarenka amped up the aggression and began swinging with greater conviction. She broke back in the third game and dropped just one point in her next two service games for 3-3.

Through the first six games, Jankovic played some precise combinations, but she grew philanthropic in donating the seventh game. An errant forehand pass and two double faults gave Azarenka double break point, and when she snapped off a cross-court backhand winner, she gained a 4-3 advantage. From that point on, Azarenka looked perfectly content to exploit her power advantage by playing cross-court rallies to push Jankovic out of position, placing pressure on the Serb to change up the patterns.

Azarenka took the court in Sydney armed with a new accomplice—the long-time Head player has switched to Wilson's new Juice racquet—and looked comfortable with the new stick navigating the eighth game. She hit four of her five aces in the opening set, including one to help her hold for 5-3 and another when she served out the first set. Azarenka's ability to gain the edge with her first serve—she served 80 percent compared to 45 percent for Jankovic—was crucial at crunch time.

Jankovic still covers the court beautifully, and her two-handed backhand up the line remains a signature shot, but she sometimes overplays it as a rally shot rather than a kill shot, which diminishes its effectiveness. Jankovic is not nearly as patient constructing points nor as stingy when it comes to limiting loose points as she once was. The former U.S. Open finalist held at love to start the second set, but then unraveled as Azarenka went on a five-game tear to put the match out of reach. 

Even when Jankovic took the initiative and moved Azarenka corner to corner, she sometimes missed the finishing shot. That was the case in the fourth game, as Jankovic put together a five-ball rally that forced Azarenka on the defensive, only to miss a backhand wide. That error left the Serbian drama queen muttering to herself, and she dribbled a double fault off the top of the tape to drop serve in the next game the deficit grew to 4-1.

Azarenka will carry a 7-2 career edge into her quarterfinal meeting with Marion Bartoli.

 —Richard Pagliaro

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