Tokyo: V. Williams d. Azarenka

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There was something off about Victoria Azarenka in her second-round match in Tokyo today. It wasn’t the fact that she double faulted on the opening two points. It wasn’t that she was so overheated by the end of the first set that she asked for a fan—the cooling kind, not the spectating kind—to be placed next to her chair on changeovers. It wasn’t that she looked so uncomfortable that she wanted to tear her top in half (“I’m too angry for my shirt,” could have been the theme song to her day). It wasn’t even that the second-ranked player in the world barely ran for the ball, was broken five times, and eventually lost to the 63rd-ranked player in the world, Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-4. No, what was strange—“eerie,” as Eurosport commentator Jo Durie put it—was that Azarenka was making no noise as she hit the ball. 

If you ever wanted to see and hear what Vika would be like without her “wooooo,” this was your chance. "Eerie" was a good description—even her strokes looked different without the accompanying soundtrack. “Unimpressive” would be another apt word. Azarenka had no intensity, or energy, or seemingly much desire to prolong the proceedings. Like her lack of noise, that was almost surely because she was sick. Even Venus, who isn’t famous for noticing much of anything on a tennis court except for the ball coming toward her, said afterward that she didn’t think Azarenka “was feeling her best today."

That's not always the easiest situation for an opponent, but Venus handled it well. She hit the ball cleanly from the start; you could see it in her backhand returns and passing shots. And while she caught her service toss almost as many times as she hit it—one more irritant for the irritable Azarenka—Williams used her serve well. When she needed a point, she made Vika stretch and move by spinning a ball wide to her forehand side. And when Azarenka began connecting on her big cuts late in the second set, Venus didn’t panic. Broken at 4-3, she broke back and closed out the match at love. This was an upset, but not a shock: Venus is now 3-0 against Azarenka for her career.

Venus moves on to play Simona Halep. As for Vika, her fans may not need to worry long. Last year she pulled out of this tournament citing “tiredness,” and came back the next week to win the title in Beijing.

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