Back where it all started, 6 years ago, in Australia, where Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka faced one another on a tennis court for the first time. Serena already the champion, Vika a young rising star. Back then it was Williams who took the win in straight sets, in the third round with the final score of 6-3 6-4. Many things have happened since that match. Serena left and came back, struggled and regained the leadership of women's tennis. At 32 years old, more dominant than ever. Vika made her way to become a champion, winning her first Grand Slam tournament, then confirming her title the year after, in what has become a second home for her, once again Australia.
And it will be Australia hosting the first match of 2014 played between the top two ranked women in the WTA tour. Who will win?
Looking at the Head2Head between the two is no surprise to see Serena dominating the files. Williams has won 13 out of the 16 matches she has played against Victoria in her career. Some of these matches have been memorable. The three sets battle the two played in Melbourne in 2010, when Serena was just two games away from losing, down 4-0 in the third set. It took all of Williams' heart and fighting spirit to turn that match around and end up winning, to then win her last to date title in Melbourne, beating Justine Henin in the final. Talking about memorable matches played between Williams and Azarenka, immediately the last two finals of the Us Open come to mind. Both times it was Serena who won, yet again, but both times she had to battle until the very last point to make sure that she was going to be crowned queen on Flushing Meadows.
Looking at the previous matches the two starred, it is quite surprising to see that Victoria did not have to wait long to beat Serena for the first time. It was just after losing twice to the American that the Belarusian dominated the younger of the Williams sisters in the final of Miami. In 2009 Vika stunned her opponent winning 6-3 6-1, dethroning Williams to become the new champion of Miami.
After that win Azarenka had to wait 4 years and 9 consecutive losses to finally be able to beat Williams again, last year in the final of Doha, right in the last act of the tournament that assured Serena with the top spot of the WTA rankings again.
Approaching the final of Brisbane, Victoria did not look in perfect shape in her first tournament of the year. Despite a draw that didn't seem to difficult to take on, Victoria struggled giving up a set to Stefanie Voegle in the quarter-finals, and recovering from a 6-1 first set loss against Jelena Jankovic in the semis. Even though the World No.2 had indeed to battle to reach the last two of the tournament, she managed to survive multiple scares, to finish her matches as a winner. Victoria likes to play in big matches, it is when she manages to produce her highest level of tennis. So, to count her out of the final before it actually happens, is no option.
On the other hand, Serena too did not produce her best tennis in Brisbane. It has to be said that Williams' draw was not to settle an easy day at the office for the World No.1. First round against dangerous Andrea Petkovic, then Dominika Cibulkova, only to find an inspired Maria Sharapova waiting in the semi-final. Serena managed not to lose a set in any of these matches, despite having to fight hard to finish up her opponents in two.
For Victoria it seems that meeting Serena in the final happens to be the best of her options. All three previous wins for Vika against the American came during final matches of tournaments, at Miami, Doha and Cincinnati. The record in the finals between the two shows how Serena still enjoys an edge over her opponent, but only by 4-3. The last final the two played in Flushing Meadows last summer, must have left a mark in Victoria Azarenka's fighting spirit, as once again she saw her opponent taking the title, despite building concrete chances to be the one in the position of winning.
For sure tonight's match is going to be a battle. It's tough to predict that whoever wins will be able to take the match in straight sets. In the last 4 matches the two have played only one was decided in 2 sets, the final of Rome, on red clay, possibly the worst surface for Azarenka to play on.
Looking at the different paths the two followed to reach the final, Serena will start the match slightly favourite. Final prediction: Serena Williams wins in 3 sets.
How to play from the baseline
The expression “to endure the rally” is about those indeterminate moments of a rally where none of the players is leading.
The ability to endure the rally is fundamental when you play a “long rally”, because it offers you the chance to measure your opponent’s strong points and vulnerabilities, besides letting you position as best as possible for your next offensive shot.