Racquet Reaction

Brisbane: S. Williams d. Azarenka

Saturday, January 04, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

Serena Williams hasn't really played her best in Brisbane this week, but when she can still beat her two closest rivals with relative ease, it's hard to argue that it matters overly much. The world No. 1 backed up her defeat of Maria Sharapova in the semis with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Victoria Azarenka in the final to claim her second Brisbane International title.

Edgy at times, brilliant at others—and clearly determined to take Azarenka's serve as early as possible—Williams was prone to making the hard shots and missing the easy ones, alternating between outrageous winners and marginal misses early on. It meant that Azarenka didn't have to do much more than serve and stand still for her first couple of service games.

At 3-3, Azarenka followed up a lovely slice serve out wide—a consistently successful play for her today—with a double fault for deuce. Williams took a touch off her returns in the next two points, enabling her to apply pressure on her second shots of the rallies. It earned her the break for 4-3, and although Azarenka produced a good hold for 4-5, Williams served out the set to love, ending with a pair of aces.

The patterns persisted: Williams then opened the second set with a brilliant, down-the-line return of Azarenka's most successful serve, the aforementioned slice out wide. Azarenka followed with a double fault and two forehand errors, giving up the break and early lead to Williams.

But second-set wobbles for the American have become familiar in this match-up, and they kicked in as she served at 2-1, pulling a backhand wide for break point. Azarenka converted it with a well-played exchange of groundstrokes in which she kept the ball more central, putting pressure on Williams to produce the angle. Staving off a break point in the next game, the same “central” tactic then earned Azarenka another break, frustrating Williams into missing a cross-court backhand wide. 

Williams, however, steadied herself quickly, putting Azarenka into trouble with a drop shot and overpowering her frantic defense from the back of the court to get back on level terms. She placed a third successive break out of reach at 3-4 with an ace, then escaped a 0-30 hole at 4-5 when Azarenka's return, usually such a strong part of her game, deserted her twice on second serves.

At 5-5, Williams began to target Azarenka's forehand in longer exchanges and produced a perfect down-the-line backhand to break for the fourth time. Serena’s serving wasn't quite classic today—just 61 percent for the match—but she offset that number with 11 aces and saved her best until the last game, serving out the title with the loss of just one point. 

In a cheerful trophy ceremony, both women announced that they hoped to play each other once again in Melbourne—not entirely disinterestedly, as they can only meet in the final. Should Williams avoid any unlucky injuries, it's hard to imagine who can stop her getting there.

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