U.S. Open ’11: Hanging out with Serena Williams

Posted: September 4, 2011 by rjsays in Tennis, U. S. Open
Tags: , , ,

Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
4 September 2011

Late in the second set, Serena was 0-40 up on Azarenka’s serve with three match points. The match looked like a routine 6-1 6-3 win for Serena (she was also a break up at this point) in the hottest match up of the first week. This would have established the supreme dominance of Serena on the women’s tour. Yet, somehow Azarenka managed to save all those match points in a display of some of the best high octane baseline tennis that I have seen. Unable to rally against the champion, Azarenka started taking the ball on the rise and made the American rush for her ground strokes. She took the return early and cracked some great return winners. Two of them were on Serena’s favorite serve out wide. Serena was so annoyed after this that she had to crack an ace and a service winner down the T after that.

From a miserable state at 3-5 0-40 down in the second set, Azarenka managed to hold, and broke Serena right in the next game, even though Serena had a match point (her fourth). For the first time in the match, Serena was under pressure as she served to enforce the tie-breaker. Once the tie-breaker started, Vika confidently marched to a 5-4 lead after going 0-3 down. Throughout the last 15 minutes, I was wondering if Azarenka could pull off a Serena’s houdini act, that is, putting herself into an impossible position and somehow scrambling a win.

Serena justifies why she is the favorite for the U.S. Open

Serena justifies why she is the favorite for the U.S. Open

And there was the catch. Azarenka could have pulled off a “Serena,” but unfortunately for her, it was Serena herself on the other side of the court. Serena hit 12 aces in the match, two of them when she was a break point down late in the second set, one of them in the tie-breaker, and another one of them when she was 0-30 down. Serena has played miserably on numerous occasions at the start of a match, but this was a rare occasion when she was unable to close out a match on her own terms.

For this fact alone, Azarenka should be given enough credit. She did not give up on watching a monstrous presence on the other side of the court, and kept going for her shots even when it seemed all over. The fact that she matched Serena shot to shot at the baseline the second set says something about her shot making skills. I have said before that Azarenka, while having no particular weakness at the back court, lacked a strength, a go to shot that she can use at full confidence and scramp winners out of it. It did not look like that today. She hit big from both her wings, bigger than what I have seen her hit in the past, and she was not hesitant to approach the net–she saved her third match point with a deft volley on Serena’s running forehand.

As well as she played today, she should consider herself unfortunate on being paired up with the greatest champion of this era so early in the tournament. She has lost in the semis and quarters in the Slams before, but this loss must have hurt, because unlike the previous encounters, she was outplayed today in all departments despite playing well above her best. The biggest positive for her was gaining the knowledge that she could hang out, at least for a while, with the very best. And Serena knew it herself. After the victory, she raised her index finger towards the sky. It was a declaration as to who is still the No. 1.

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