Victoria Azarenka Beats Serena Williams to Win Her First Sony Ericsson Open Title

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 4, 2009

MIAMI, Florida—19-year-old Victoria Azarenka is now the pride of Belarus, claiming her first Sony Ericsson Open title after defeating an injured Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.

Victoria AzarenkaNot only did Azarenka deny Serena the opportunity to claim her 6th victory here in Miami, she took away her chance to break Steffi Graf’s record for the most singles titles at this tournament (5).

“I gave the effort that I could give today. That’s all I could give,” says Serena. She played with a taped left thigh, and was visibly limping towards the middle of the 2nd set.

When asked about her injury, Serena would only say that she has an ankle strain, as well as something else on her thigh that was bothering her in the quarterfinal, and seemed to get worse as the tournament progressed.

The brutal heat and humidity also produced difficult playing conditions. Richard Williams was seen wiping sweat from his face as he watched his daughter struggle through the match.

Despite the exchange of grunts from both sides of the court, it was clear that Serena wasn’t able to get to the ball fast enough, which she later admitted. “It was a little difficult moving to the left and a little bit to the right. A little forward was also difficult,” she said with a laugh.
After hitting the winning point, Azarenka was bursting with excitement as she dropped her racquet and ran over to hug her coach, Antonio Van Grichen, and her fitness coach, Mark Willington.

“It was the biggest win of my career so far,” says Azarenka. “I was just so happy to finish the match, because I was getting a little bit nervous at the end.”

Her nerves were visible when she double faulted at match point, just when she realized that she could actually win the title. But her consistency and aggressive playing style prevented her from becoming overwhelmed by her impending win over the No. 1 player in the world.
As for Serena’s future, she says that she plans to take a few weeks off to recuperate.
Victoria Azarenka, now ranked No. 8, is the 2nd player from Belarus to be ranked in the top 10, next to Natasha Zvereva, who was ranked No. 5 in 1989, and retired in 2002.

Tennis Tensions: An Inside Look at the Racquets of the Stars

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 4, 2009

MIAMI, Florida—Greetings once again from the Sony Ericsson Open. Earlier this evening, I was lurking around the racquet stringers room at the tournament. (The invite to Star Jones’s party didn’t pan out, so I went for a walk.)

It’s just as well. I’ve been wanting to learn more about the racquets of the pros for a while now. Turns out, I was in luck. Scott Schneider, Goran Hofsteter, and Len Filatov, stringers for the Sony Ericsson Open, were kind enough to let me in to their work room and answer just about any racquet stringing question I had. They even gave me some good “dirt”.
These guys certainly know their stuff, having strung racquets for Serena and Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and Dinara Safina, among others.

Tennis Racquet Strings of the Pros — Fast Facts:
- Luxilon –most popular racquet string
- Normal string tension range: 54-60 pounds
- Doubles players play with lower tension – approx. 50 pounds
- Standard racquet head size: 95-100
- Racquet stringing based on weather: lower tension used if weather is more humid, tighter if more dry
- Length of time it takes to string one racquet: 20-25 min. (3 hours for 6 racquets)
- Racquets are sent directly from the stringing room to the court.
- Racquet tension can change as much as 6-7 pounds during the course of a match, if the player is hitting hard enough.

Power vs. Control
When you’re choosing racquet strings, it’s usually a tough choice between power and control. Hybrid strings–polyester and natural gut combined (two different strings), give players the best of both worlds.

Scott Schneider on hybrid strings: “You have a little bit of power from the natural gut that gives you the nice feel, and you’re still controlling the ball with the polyester. That way, you can kind of swing out at the ball, and it’s not too hard on the arms.”

Most of the top players are using the hybrid strings these days, including Maria Sharapova.
Below are some interesting details about specific racquets for some top players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour:

Serena Williams
Racquet Type: Wilson KBlade Team
Head Size: 103 or 104 inches
Strings 6-8 racquets per match
String type - Wilson natural gut – 16 gauge
String tension: 65-67 pounds
Changes to a new racquet: 2-3 times/match, depending on match difficulty
Venus and Serena use the same racquet with same tension, but different over-grip
Scott Schneider: “Serena picks a couple of racquets at one tension and a couple at another tension, just in case the ball is flying or the weather’s changing. That way she can go to a tighter racquet, or if she starts with a tighter racquet and the balls aren’t flying deep enough, she’ll switch to a looser one.”

Ana Ivanovic
Racquet type: Yonex RQ iS 1 Tour XL 95
String type: natural gut and Yonex polyester string
Strings 2-4 racquets per match
Requests mixed tensions on racquets to be prepared for any weather changes

Dinara Safina
Racquet type: Babolat Aero Storm Tour
Luxilon polyester string – rough feel (to give her more spin)
String tension: 63-64 pounds

The Dirt
* Re-painting a racquet can affect the stiffness of a racquet, which can impact performance.
* Sometimes players don’t play with the racquet that you think they play with. They could be using a discontinued racquet from 2000, but is re-painted to look like the newest model (to please the sponsors). This is done when players don’t want to switch to a new racquet.
* Some players have varying tensions within the same racquet, for varying sweet spots. (Stringers wouldn’t spill the beans on who does this). 

What Players Are Picky About
- Where to put the stencil on the racquet (just above the 5th or 6th string)
- Where to tie the string knots
- Want the strings to be strung in one piece or two pieces
- Want the racquet to be bagged a certain way – logo facing up
- The sticker for the tension being in the same spot on all the racquets

Sounds Like a Good Racquet
Have you ever seen players bang racquets together and listen before switching racquets?
They’re listening for the right pitch. A high pitch sound means a tighter tension, while a low pitch sound is a lower tension.

Getting Personal
You’ve heard of personal trainers, but what about personal stringers. That’s right.
Some top-level players have personal stringers for big tournaments like Grand Slams.
Scott Schneider: “With so much money on the line, they don’t trust just anyone.”
Maybe if I buy Serena’s racquet with the exact same strings, tension and head size, I can have a good shot at being No. 1. Okay, I may be delusional, but I can still dream.