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.