US Open Final Preview: Is Azarenka Ready?

Originally Published: On the Baseline

Flushing Meadows — Hindsight is 20/20, or at least that’s what Victoria Azarenka is hoping for when she faces Serena Williams in the U.S. Open women’s final on Saturday night.

World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has advanced to her first-ever U.S. Open final, and just to add a little bit of icing to that cake, the match will be played in prime time, on Arthur Ashe Stadium, under the lights. She’s had a phenomenal season, with the best W/L percentage on hard courts this year (32-2, 94.1%). She already has one Grand Slam under her belt (2012 Australian Open), and is hoping for her second. She hasn’t lost a three-set match this year. Now 12-0.

Her opponent, Serena Williams is coming off one of the best summers of her career: Wimbledon champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, and now, her sixth U.S. Open final. But even prior to this year, the 14-time Grand Slam champion has proven to be a huge obstacle for Azarenka, with a 9-1 lead in their head-to-head match-ups. They faced each other in the 2011 U.S. Open (third round) and Azarenka lost in straight sets. This year, Serena has defeated Azarenka in all three of their matches (Madrid final, Wimbledon semifinal, and the Olympics semifinal). Serena has a 6-1 W/L record in three set matches for this year.

What tactics does Azarenka need to use to successfully maneuver around Serena’s power game? “I have to try to return well, definitely, and serve,” said Azarenka, after defeating Sharapova in the semifinal on Friday. “With Serena, it’s not really the long rallies. It’s all about who grabs the first opportunity, who is more brave to step it up right from the beginning.”

Easier said than done. Heading into her 19th Grand Slam final, Serena leads the pack for the highest number of aces at the U.S. Open: 50. That’s right. 50. She is also 3-0 over world No.1 players in Grand Slam finals: 1999 US Open, vs. Martina Hingis; 2002 Wimbledon vs. Venus Williams, 2005 Australian Open vs. Lindsay Davenport. The three-time U.S. Open champion hasn’t dropped a set coming into the women’s final.
A win on Saturday would give the 30-year-old her fourth U.S. Open title, 13 years after she won her first U.S. Open title in 1999.

Serena seems to have a certain controlled calmness about her (uncharacteristically so), as well as more continuity in her game, which makes her appear even more intimidating.

“I don’t have anything to lose, said Serena on Friday, after her semifinal win vs. Sara Errani. I feel as though I’m going up against the most consistent and the best player this year [Victoria Azarenka]. She then clarified her statement by saying “I always believe that I’m the best. On paper, she’s gone much deeper in Slams than I have.”

Also in Friday’s press conference, Serena said that she feels “more experienced” this time around, after her surprise loss to Sam Stosur in the 2011 U.S. Open final.

Serena may not need to draw on her own 20/20 hindsight to win the U.S. Open final. She may just have to keep doing what she’s been doing since the first round: Demolish her opponents with her power, serve, and incredible ability to hit any angle from anywhere on the court.

US Open Week 1 from A to Z

Originally Published: On the Baseline

Flushing Meadows, NY— The first week of the U.S. Open was filled with breakthroughs,
retirements, dances, and everything in between.

Azarenka, the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open, has dropped the fewest number of games (10)
over the first four rounds, and has the best W/L percentage on hard courts: 29-2 (93.5%).
She’ll be tough to beat heading into the second week.

Breakthrough tournament for Anna Tatishvili? Absolutely. The world No. 73 has never
made it past the first round at the U.S. Open. Despite losing to Azarenka in the fourth round, she is the first Georgian woman to make it to the fourth round since Leila Meskhi in 1994.

Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 8 seed and former No. 1 came into the U.S. Open with a knee injury. On Tuesday, she fell in her first round to world No. 96 Irina-Camelia Begu. Without question, Wozniacki is experiencing the bleakest season of her career, with first round losses at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and has not yet won a title this year. She was defending a lot of points, so she will fall outside the top 10.

Dominating. That sums up Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. It took Serena just 13 minutes to gain a 4-0 over Coco Vandeweghe in her first round match. Since then, her wins have become almost routine. For the second year in a row, the three-time U.S. Open champ is the only American woman to advance past the third round, including a straight-sets win over Ekaterina Makarova.

The end has sadly come for Kim Clijsters’ career. On Wednesday, Laura Robson pulled off a surprising, second round upset over the three-time U.S. Open champ. A changing of the guard could not have been more evident in any other match during this first week.

Four of the final 16 players had never reached the fourth round in a Grand Slam, and are all unseeded: Hlavackova, Robson, Tatishvili and Vinci. Of the four, Vinci and Hlavackova are the only two remaining in the tournament.

Giant Killers. There have been a few this first week: Laura Robson (d. Li Na, Clijsters),
Marion Bartoli (d. Petra Kvitova), Sloane Stephens (d. Francesca Sciavone).

Andrea Hlavackova defeated No.14 seed Maria Kirilenko in a tough, 3-setter on Saturday, resulting in the best win of her career. Prior to the U.S. Open, the No. 82-ranked Czech had never even played the main draw at the U.S. Open.

Italians – there are two remaining in the tournament in singles: Roberta Vinci and Sara

Jelena Jankovic lost to No. 2 seed, Aggie Radwanska on Saturday in straight sets. Aggie has advanced to the fourth round in singles for the first time since 2008. Jankovic, the U.S. Open runner-up in 2008, racked up 37 unforced errors.

Angelique Kerber, last year’s U.S. Open semifinalist, has advanced to the fourth round,
where she will take on Sara Errani, who made a surprise run to the finals of the French Open this year, losing to Maria Sharapova.

Laura Robson is playing the best tennis of her young career. The 18-year-old Brit faced
a tough draw, but surprisingly, she defeated Kim Clijsters, and then ousted No. 9 seed, Li
Na in the third round—the first top 10 win of her career. Robson is the youngest player in
the top 100. She hasn’t made it past the second round in any previous Grand Slam, but this
time, advanced to the fourth, before her dream run ended on Sunday night against defending champ, Sam Stosur.

Maria Sharapova hadn’t faced any player ranked higher than No. 78 in the world, until she met Nadia Petrova in the fourth round. A rain delay halted play on Sunday night with Petrova leading 2-0 in the third set, but when play resumed, Sharapova prevailed, advancing to the quarterfinals.

Nine match points. That’s how many it took for Sam Stosur to close out her match vs. Laura Robson, and advance to the quarterfinals. She will play Azarenka in the quarterfinals.

One lefthander remains in the draw: Angelique Kerber.

Petra Kvitova, winner of the U.S. Open Series, ran out of gas against Marion Bartoli in the fourth round. Bartoli handed Kvitova a third set bagel to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in her career. She will take on Sharapova in the quarterfinals.

Without question, one of the most unexpected moments of the first week happened on
Wednesday, when Sam Stosur broke out into a dance after her win over Edina Gallovits-Hall in the second round. It’s being called the “Stosur Shuffle.”

Round of 16: Only five players have advanced to the second week without losing a set:
Azarenka, Petrova, Sharapova, Stosur, and Serena Williams.

Sam Stosur – the reigning U.S. Open champion hasn’t dropped a set, and is looking to be in good shape to defend her title, if she can manage her nerves in clutch moments.

Tests continue for Ana Ivanovic, as she advances to the fourth round. If she can keep her
momentum going, she’ll have opportunities to regain confidence, and potentially re-enter the top 10. Time will tell if she can hold it together when she faces her familiar foes.

Unforced errors for Venus Williams: 60 (vs. Angelique Kerber) on Thursday night. Ivanovic was a close second in her match against Stephens, with 56.

Venus Williams: This time last year, she was diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome, but has
managed to get her symptoms under control, and is back inside the top 50 (No. 46). She had a great win over Bethany-Mattek Sands in the first round, but in one of the most riveting night matches of the first week, Venus suffered a painful, three-set loss to Angelique Kerber in the second round. She had a 4-2 lead in the third set, and lost it. This was her second straight, early round exit from the U.S. Open.

The Williams sisters are still winning in doubles, advancing to the third round.

X-Factor. Sloane Stephens has it. The 19-year-old scored the biggest win of her career in
the first round, defeating Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. On Saturday night, under the glaring lights of Arthur Ashe stadium, she was ousted in the third round by Ana Ivanovic, a repeat of last year’s result.

Yum is the best word to describe Maria Sharapova’s new business venture, Sugarpova: A line of super sweet candy, which Maria unveiled to the public at the start of this week.

Jie Zheng (No. 28 seed) advanced to the third round, her best performance since 2009, before losing to Azarenka.