Australian Open: Azarenka d. Daniilidou

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Writing a Racquet Reaction when Victoria Azarenka is playing a woman with more variety than power is nice work if you can get it. The big question as I write this is whether it will take me longer to churn it out than it took Azarenka to churn up Danilidou in her tennis blender, 6-1, 6-0.

It’s gonna be close. Vika won in 55 minutes.

Worse yet, what of interest or import can I say about a match in which the loser was painfully outclassed from the get-go, and didn’t get a game until she was on the verge of absorbing a first-set shutout?

When Daniilidou finally did get that game for 1-5, she gently shook her fist with a gentle, self-mocking smile on her lips. A more enthusiastic demonstration would have been absurd, and to her credit she knew it.

It was all the more pity that the woman Azarenka carved up has a game that the winner herself described as “classical.” In this case, that might have been code for, “no longer applicable because of the way the game is now played.”

Although Daniilidou likes to crack the forehand—and when she is at her best, it can be a powerful kill shot—she hits a one-handed backhand, often with a pre-disposition to slice instead of roll the ball. You just don’t get away with that one-two, power-finesse combination unless you can really make that forehand sing and that slice sting. Today, Daniilidou could do neither.

On top of that, if you’re using your backhand slice to stay in cross-court rallies against a two-hander, particularly one as capable as Azarenka's (instead of getting her out of position and posing awkward questions for her power game), you’re in deep trouble.

And that’s where Daniilidou found herself early and often in the near 100-degree temperature today. Hitting slice from far behind the baseline with an aggressive, accurate rival who hits fairly flat amounts to leaning back on the ropes and covering up your face with your gloves. That rope-a-dope strategy may work now and then, but not very often against a player of Azarenka’s class.

To compound Daniilidou’s challenge, each of her serves seemed a brand new adventure into what must have seemed to her the vast space above her head. Her toss was here, there, everywhere. She often caught a toss, and sometimes more than once. It got to the point where, after two false-starts in the first game of the second set, Azarenka abruptly turned her back and walked to the windscreen to towel off before taking up her returner’s position again.

She’s the soul of compassion, that Vika.

Azarenka just went on, hunting out Daniilidou’s backhand and feasting on it. Pinned down, the Greek underdog got caught either going for too much, which produced the unforced error, or playing it too safe—thereby ensuring that Azarenka would send a winner or unreturnable shot whistling past her.

Azarenka also handled the heat better. At times, Daniilidou got caught flat-footed, or just didn’t show the footwork needed to clock an aggressive shot. She looked to be wilting in the heat, while Azarenka looked to be sending the message that Maria Sharapova isn’t the only WTA blow-out queen on the grounds at Melbourne Park.

We’ll see if Serena gets caught up in the implicit challenge to keep up.

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