Wimbledon: Azarenka d. Paszek

by: Richard Pagliaro | July 03, 2012

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VikaRRBeneath the translucent roof, Victoria Azarenka and Tamira Paszek launched baseline fireworks. Continuously advancing inside, Azarenka squeezed the court and finally slammed the door shut on the gritty Austrian, scoring a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory to advance to the Wimbledon semifinals for the second straight year.

This was a high-quality quarterfinal rematch between two power players collaborating on crackling rallies: Azarenka hit 33 winners compared to Paszek's 25.

Azarenka rode her vicious return game to the Australian Open title in January. She unleashed a ferocious serve to reach her third major semifinal in her last five Grand Slam appearances. Launching herself up and out into the court, Azarenka opened by winning 14 straight points on her serve, delivering a near-service shutout in winning 20 of 21 points played on her delivery in the opening set.

The 5'5" Paszek withstood four break points to hold in a 12-minute fourth game and gamely stood toe-to-toe with the 6'0" Belarusian until the cumulative effect of Azarenka's deep drives began to take a toll. Playing the 44th point on her serve in the opening set, Paszek steered a shot wide as Azarenka broke for 5-3. The reigning Australian Open champion closed the set with an inside-out forehand winner, her fourth love hold of the match.

Paszek plays with the genuine joy of a woman empowered by her resurgence—she entered this encounter on a nine-match grass-court winning streak after spinning her wheels in a 2-13 start to 2012—and displayed both her compact strokes and love of a good fight in staving off a break point in the second set. She fired her best weapon—a backhand winner down the line, which she punctuated with a heart-felt "Come on!"—holding after a five-deuce game for a 2-1 second-set lead. The 21-year-old did her best to keep the ball out of the middle of the court, drilling some flat backhand winners down the line to stay on serve through the first eight games of the second set.

The predatory posture Azarenka takes as she steps inside the baseline combined with her expansive reach to minimize open space for the Paszek, who dropped serve at love in the ninth game. Azarenka served for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5, but when you put Paszek's back to the wall it only seems to adrenalize her even more. She broke back twice, ripping a return down the line to force a tiebreaker with a clenched fist.

Trailing 0-2 in the breaker, Azarenka regained her control and reasserted her authority, winning six of the next seven points. Two Paszek forehand errors and a backhand that sailed beyond the baseline gave Azarenka three match points, and she sealed the match off an error.

Paszek played a strong match and fought with commendable vigor, but Azarenka always had an answer when it mattered most. It was an impressive performance against a determined opponent, but Azarenka knows she will have to pick it up against 2010 champion Serena Williams, her semifinal opponent, who has won seven of their eight meetings.

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