This year, when Serena Williams, then world number two, encountered Belarussian Victoria Azarenka, the 13th seed, in the fourth round of the Australian Open, Williams dodged a bullet. After winning the first set, a tearful Victoria, down a break in the second set, had to retire due to illness. At their rematch in the finals of the Sony Ericsson Open, the 19 year-old Belarussian, now ranked 10th , was all smiles as she captured the grandest title of her nascent career with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Williams, the current world number one.
Despite a strapped left thigh, the code for a probable injury, Williams was a warrior. Serena held serve to open the match with a forehand up the line winner. Subsequently, after leading 40-15, Azarenka had a forehand go out of bounce giving Williams a break point. However, the teenager did not panic. With a forehand up the line winner and a couple of unforced errors from Serena, Victoria secured the game for 1 all. Then, with a double fault and a litany of errors by Williams, Azarenka arrived at double break point which she converted for a 2-1. But, Azarenka was unable to maintain the lead with unforced errors of her own. In the pivotal seventh game, with the players on serve, Azarenka opened up with a backhand winner and forced several errors from Williams to get another break. After Victoria consolidated, with a third double fault and her backhand stroke finding the bottom of the net, Serena faced double break point. Although Serena managed to prolong the game with a few aces, as another of Williams’ backhands failed to traverse the net, Victoria obtained the first set.
After a double fault to start the second set, Azarenka comfortably held serve, with Williams’ returns unable to find the court. Although Serena had no trouble leveling the set at 1 all, it was conspicuous clear that her monstrous serve lacked its customary mustardy bite. In the fourth game, with now the recurrent theme of a Serena double fault and a backhand error, Victoria got a double break chance. With Serena’s fifth double fault, Azarenka took a 3-1 lead. As a deluge of errors from Williams rained on, Azarenka built a 5-1 advantage. With Victoria serving for the trophy, Serena showed signs of resistance with a backhand up the line winner for 0-15. Then, a nervous Azarenka committed a double fault giving Williams a break point opportunity. But, with a blazing backhand crosscourt pass, Azarenka got to deuce. Although Williams manufactured another break point, Azarenka bottled her nerves in time to close out the match to stop Serena from claiming a historic sixth Sony title. When the new rankings are released Monday, Azarenka will ascend to number eight, her highest thus far.
At the trophy ceremony, Azarenka expressed that it was “ an honor to play Serena” and credited her recent blossoming to the fact that she “started to believe in [herself]”. In the interview after the match, Azarenka cited that being “more consistent and more aggressive” were the keys to her win today. Moreover, although this premier event was her first “big final”, Victoria stated that not thinking about that detail prior to the warm-up allowed her to keep her nerves in check and to better handle the occasion. For her part, Williams did not use her leg in any form as an excuse and “[gave] Victoria all the credit”. Serena commented that “ [Victoria] obviously has potential and she’s going to be a really good player”. Therefore, Serena said that she was looking forward to their next meeting.