INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Victoria Azarenka is the No. 1 seed, but she’s been the queen of the slow starts so far here in Indian Wells. She lost the first four games against Daniela Hantuchova in her opening match before winning 10 of the last 11. Tonight, playing in front of a low-energy, early-evening crowd, and with what she said was a stuffed up nose, Vika was even more sluggish out of the gate against Kirsten Flipkens. She lost the first set 6-3; midway through the second, she still hadn’t shaken her 31st-ranked opponent.
Azarenka was playing poorly—afterward she said she asked herself, “What the hell are you doing, you’re the No. 1 player in the world.” (No. 2, actually, but close enough for your purpose.) Still, credit the improved Flipkens, who at age 27 finds herself with a career-high ranking. She also has a game that Azarenka doesn’t see everyday. She can hit her backhand with one hand or two, and will switch from slices to drives from one stroke to the next. She also uses the underspin version of that stroke to get to the net, and for drop shots. Sometimes she does all of these things in a single rally. Flipkens had Azarenka off-balance for much of the first two sets.
When the change came, though, it was total. Azarenka went up a break to start the second set; it looked like order had been restored. But Flipkens wasn’t ready to go away yet. She broke back for 3-3. Azarenka still hadn’t found her range. Would she in time?
Unfortunately for Flipkens, she must have sensed that she had a chance, because she chose that moment to collapse. At 3-3, routine shots began to sail, and she was broken at love. At love-40, she buried a horrid, tentative backhand into the bottom of the net. It was a sign. Flipkens wouldn’t win another game, or challenge Azarenka again. Vika played like a No. 2 (or No. 1 in her head)—either way, many levels above No. 31—and ended up with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory.
Her voice croaking, Azarenka said afterward that she has been stuffed up, and that she had trouble breathing in the early going tonight. Can anyone take advantage of her condition, and her slow starts? Next up is Urszula Radwanska; Vika won their only match up. After that, maybe, Caroline Wozniacki.