In the finals of Aegon International, the ultimate warm-up tournament before Wimbledon, Ekaterina Makarova fought off an injured Victoria Azarenka 7-6,6-4 to grab her maiden WTA title and become the first qualifier to seize the trophy.
Ranked 100th in the world, Makarova has been in top shape the entire week. The Russian took care of 6th seed Flavia Pennetta in the first round and dismissed compatriot and 2008 finalist Nadia Petrova in the second round. Then, Makarova booted countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals and upset French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in the semifinals. Makarova continued her splendid performance by opening the first set with a comfortable game. Subsequently, with a forehand up the line winner and an error by Azarenka, Makarova arrived at double break point. With a forehand return winner, Makarova gained the break. Later, despite a tough game where she dealt with a break point, Makarova extended her lead to 3-0. With both knees strapped due to tendonitis, Azarenka continued to battle producing high quality tennis to remain one break behind. With a backhand down the line winner, Azarenka had her second break chance. However, using her lefty serve to her advantage, Makarova extricated herself from trouble and closed the game with a backhand volley winner for 5-2. But serving for the first set at 5-4, Makarova netted a backhand to hand Azarenka a break point. When a second straight backhand crosscourt went array, Azarenka gained the break. After Makarova fought off two break points to guard serve and Azarenka held at love, the set moved to a tiebreaker. With a forehand crosscourt winner, Makarova obtained the mini-break early on. Further on, with an error by Azarenka, Makarova stretched her lead to 5-1. Although Azarenka narrowed the gap to 6-5, Makarova’s luck held as Azarenka misfired with the forehand as the ball skidded off the line which terminated the set.
Playing through the pain, Azarenka maintained serve readily her first few times out in the second set. Then at 2 all, Azarenka double faulted to gift Makarova a break point. Makarova capitalized when Azarenka’s forehand sailed long. Still, by forcing two mistakes from Makarova and with a forehand up the line winner, Azarenka promptly had triple break point. By placing her serve well, Makarova leveled the game at deuce. Yet, the Russian had to wipe out a fourth break point before consolidating for 4-2. Unwilling to surrender, Azarenka kept striking winners and guarding serve with relative ease. Thus, with a forehand winner, Azarenka arrived at double break point. But, once again the Belarusian was turned away by Makarova who advanced to 5-3. After Azarenka had a love game, two miscues placed Makarova at double championship point. With an overhead winner, Makarova ended the match and captured the championship.
A former world 35, with the victory, Makarova’s ranking will move into the seventies. The Russian did not drop a set on her way to the title. In disbelief after her triumph, Makarova admitted that the key this week was having “the best coach and perhaps [being] a little lucky”.
Azarenka also has a lot of positives to build on from this event. Since reaching the finals in February in Dubai, the Belarusian has struggled with injuries with early round exits at her last five competitions including the French Open. As a result, Azarenka has dipped to 15 in the rankings. This week, with wins over the 2008 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2005 victor Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals and Marion Bartoli in the semifinals, Azarenka has regained some of her form heading into Wimbledon. But, with tendonitis affecting both knees, Azarenka will have a tough time making a deep run at the All England Club..