IBM technology collects, crunches and distributes a mass of live data to make every shot at the US Open come alive. When we wanted to dig deeper to uncover specifics surrounding last year’s women’s final, IBM provided the statistical ammunition.
FOCUS ON ERRORS
Once Azarenka reviewed her 2012 US Open stat sheet, she probably didn’t like what she saw. Almost all offensive categories were dominated by Williams, and they probably will be this year if these two end up meeting each other again. The one statistical category in which Azarenka did finish first for the tournament was baseline points won, although it was just one percent better than Williams (57 percent to 56 percent). Azarenka is not going to stop the winners, but she can increase the errors of her powerful opponent.
There were 16,862 points played in the women’s draw last year with 19.3 percent of them ending in a winner. That means more than 80 percent ended in an unforced error or a forced error. Most points are won on misses, not clean winners. That’s exactly where Azarenka must focus her attention to make Williams uncomfortable and raise the percentage of errors she makes. Better depth and direction, along with taking away Williams’ time to prepare, are the critical factors. Accept her winners, but increase her errors.
HUNT THE SHORT BALL
Azarenka has an advantage over Williams in coming to the net to finish points. Azarenka ranked eighth at the 2012 US Open in net points won at 81 percent while Williams tied for 44th at 63 percent. Azarenka is proficient at jumping on short balls and moving in. This year, she must do it even better. Any opportunity to pressure Williams on the run is a good idea, and approaching deep to the corners will achieve that goal. Azarenka also ranked third for the tournament with volley and overhead winners (23) while Williams only managed 13, which was tied for 10th. Azarenka’s goal should be to turn the battle into a full-court press, not a backcourt shootout.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Serena may be the best offensive player the sport has ever seen, so it’s best not to trade power punches with her. Azarenka has the ability to absorb her opponents’ power and turn it back against them. This makes her hard-hitting opponents have to strike one more ball, which can manufacture one more error. Williams had 114 unforced errors last year (61 forehand, 53 backhand) while Azarenka committed 101 (50 forehand, 51 backhand). Azarenka is only looking for a couple of points here and there to turn the tables, and she could if she widens the gap in this critical category that she won last year.