Cincinnati: Azarenka d. Jankovic
You won’t be able to verify this in the match statistics, but I’d be willing to bet that, as Victoria Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic sat in the locker room after their semifinal, both discovered that they had broken a nail.
Looking at the numbers, here’s what we know for sure: The two ladies combined for an incredible 23 breaks of serve—and a paltry four holds—in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 triumph by Azarenka, who will meet Serena Williams in a rematch of last year’s classic U.S. Open final. In the second and third sets, Jankovic hit 23 second serves and won just four of those points. And yet her overall second-serve conversion numbers were better than Azarenka’s; the No. 2 seed won just 22 percent of her 27 second-serve points played.
Yes, this was a match ultimately determined by who could break more instead of who would hold more. But when a serve landed in—which happened 161 times; 20 times there were double-faults—it became a battle of the backhands, with two of the best two-handers in tennis on display. It amounted to some of the most entertaining rallies during a long day in Mason which featured a little bit of everything. Despite losing the first set—no wonder; she was broken all five times she served—Azarenka was the more effective player in these exchanges, making Jankovic hit one more shot a time too many.
Jankovic, the No. 14 seed, was playing with house money after snagging a first set in which she only held serve once. When the second set went Azarenka’s way, though, the Serb suddenly had something to lose, and unsurprisingly, a lengthy first game ensued. It wasn’t pivotal the way a first game in, say, John Isner’s match with Juan Martin del Potro was—there would be plenty more chances to break. But this break by Azarenka felt different than the other 22; it announced her intent to continue the patterns of play that led to a lopsided second set.
Even so, Azarenka grew frustrated at times; after one point, she did a frame-by-frame “replay” of how she should have hit her backhand. But Jankovic, despite breaking Azarenka three times in the third set and preventing her from running away with the decider, was never able to keep Azarenka down long enough.
The contest boiled down to this: Jankovic was simply unable to test Azarenka on enough of the post-serve tennis. Her signature down-the-line backhand made appearances, and at times her groundstrokes recalled her glory days of the late 2000s, but Azarenka was the better player, and has been for some time. She’ll get a much greater test against Williams tomorrow, but keep this in mind: Her match with Li Na took 24 games to complete, and 12 of those games featured service breaks. Break out the popcorn.