Madrid: Azarenka d. Radwanska
Azarenka, who lost last year in the final to Petra Kvitova, had her difficulties earlier on in the week and it looked early in the match as if she might be vulnerable to Radwanska today, double-faulting twice to hand back her initial break. Meanwhile, Radwanska initially brought more aggression than we’re used to seeing from her, holding to love for 1-2 with a succession of clean winners. But any suggestion that the match might develop substantially differently was quickly nipped in the bud. Radwanska, serving at 50% in the first set, kept offering up short, soft, predictable second serves that were grist to the mill for Azarenka’s deep returning and was broken to love for 3-2. Her worst game of the match already behind her, Azarenka settled to the task at hand and forged ahead to dominate the first set 6-2, finishing with her 14th winner.
Azarenka’s level — and first serve percentage — dropped substantially in the second set, but by that point Radwanska already appeared resigned to a sixth straight loss. Even on the blue clay, with Azarenka markedly less willing to run for hours than usual, she struggled to make even would-be decisive advantages of position tell, exemplified by a point with Azarenka serving at 0-1 where she was on the service line for three shots without being able to put the ball away for a winner. Kicking at the clay and complaining aloud, she was unable to channel her frustration effectively even when Azarenka swiped at an out-of-play ball and accidentally almost hit her, broken after another poor second serve was punished with a deep return. Azarenka struggled to take the lead decisively, getting visibly upset and emotional as she was broken back twice, but Radwanska simply could not find the consistency in her serve or groundstrokes to push her wavering opponent. Serving at 4-4, break point down, another poor second serve sat up and begged and Azarenka struck a clean backhand return winner. With new consultant Mauresmo looking on, Azarenka settled herself enough to serve out the match, ending with a backhand drop-volley from right on top of the net.
Azarenka kept her streak of not losing to Radwanska, or in a semifinal, in 2012 alive, but she will need to play and in particular serve much better to keep things close in a probable final against Serena Williams. As for Radwanska, it’s clear that Azarenka’s recent victories have unsettled her deeply against the Belarusian; for such a cool-headed player, she was tactically a mess today, unable to take a set against an Azarenka who was not at her best. The pair are slated to meet again in the Rome semifinals next week; should they both get there, Radwanska will do well to try to forget their recent history and play with less emotion and more strategy.