Stuttgart: Azarenka d. Radwanska
Stuttgart marks the first time in nearly three years that the WTA Top 4 reached the final four of a tournament. But it hasn't been as uncommon to see the world's top two women reach the final round of an event—it happened as recently as Indian Wells, when Victoria Azarenka played Maria Sharapova. We're halfway to another Top 2 collision, thanks to Azarenka's commanding, 6-1, 6-3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska.
The world No. 1 is now 5-0 against Radwanska in 2012, 10-3 lifetime, and has won the last eight sets they've played. It wasn't hard to see why if you watched today's match. The obvious reason is power, which Azarenka has to burn and Radwanska lacks. If Radwanska isn't keeping all of her slick shots in—which she wasn't on this day—the rallies will almost always end in Azarenka's favor. That or, at the very least, they will end on her racquet, which given Vika's current form is a risky proposition for her opponents.
The second but potentially as important reason is Azarenka's movement. She glides fluidly, and that was even more pronounced on clay. Radwanska moved her feet, but compared to Azarenka, that's all she moved. Getting into position to handle Azarenka's shots was sometimes half the battle for Radwanska, who needed more speed and certainly more ammunition to prevail. But even that may not have been enough against a player who has now won 29 of her first 30 matches.
Behind quickly, Radwanska dropped the first set to Azarenka for the exact reasons I mentioned. When she took an extended injury timeout down 3-2 in the second, it looked for a moment as if it might be an even quicker exit for Radwanska than usual. But the Pole encouraged with a no-look, backhand overhead to save a break point, a shot that signaled a change in confidence. That may have been the case—Radwanska played her best tennis as this straight-setter wound down—but her execution was never consistent enough to compete with the top seed. After traversing the break-point tightrope, Radwanska served a sitter to Azarenka, whose backhand return winner gave her the break for for all intents and purposes the match.
Down 5-2, Radwanska saved a match point and forced Azarenka to serve out the contest. It was then that we watched Radwanska place a running backhand in the perfect position down the line, and strike a cross-court forehand return winner that gave Azarenka temporary pause. There was nothing little about those shots, and Radwanska must add more of them to her arsenal to unseat the best of the best. In this sense, the WTA No. 4 shares some similarities to the ATP No. 4, Andy Murray.
Not too little, no, but certainly too late.