Monthly Archives: January 2013

Azarenka defends Australian Open crown

Azarenka Australian Open

Victoria Azarenka came back from a set down to overcome Li Na 4-6 6-4 6-3 and successfully defend her Australian Open singles title in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena.

The 23-year-old, who won her first ever Grand Slam in Melbourne last year, endured a hostile crowd, weak serve and spirited opponent to retain not only the title but also that coveted status as world number one.

The game will be remembered for 16 breaks of serve in one of the most unpredictable Australian Open finals of all time. Li went into the match knowing she had a 2-0 record over the Belarusian in majors and took a competitive first set in just over 40 minutes.

Li persisted with a strong forehand

Li utilised with a strong forehand

However, the Chinese was unable to gather momentum during a match as she endured two injury timeouts and a break for the Australia Day fireworks. She will rise up the WTA rankings but that will be no consolation for the 2011 Roland Garros champion.

As for Azarenka, this victory cements her status at the top of the women’s game and will give her real confidence heading into the rest of the season. Her preparations for the tournament were hampered and she made no friends over her semi-final ‘gamesmanship’, but in the end proved a worthy winner in front of 15,000 supporters.

She becomes only the eighth woman to successfully defend the Australian open crown.

 

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Set One

Nerves certainly had the better of both players early on, with back-to-back breaks to open up and a total 11 errors from the first three games. Li had the first chance to stretch out of two-game lead on Azarenka’s serve and duly took it with a fierce backhand return under her opponents’ feet to take a 3-1 lead in the first set.

Although Azarenka came back with a break herself, Li stretched her lead to 4-2 (five games witnessing breaks of serve) with a superb backhand down the line after controlling her opponent throughout the point.

Li was hitting the heavier shots and coped well at the back of the court over the brief spells that Azarenka pushed forward, taking the seventh game by love but then lost her own serve to see her lead cut to 5-4.

 

Li serving

Li serving

The Chinese had set point on Azarenka’s serve, punching away a cross-court forehand, but two points later the Belarusian made an impossible passing shot to stay in the game. Four set points came and went and it was still not over, until an uncharacteristic double fault saw Li take the first set 6-4.

Although Azarenka had come back into the set, the fact Li won 12 winners to her opponents’ four over 10 games was the clear difference in the pair. Too often Azarenka hit rallies long on the baseline, no doubt trying to match Li’s heavy groundstrokes.

 

Set Two

As often with Grand Slam champions, write them off at your peril, for Azarenka immediately hit back with two breaks and hold of serve in the second. The match was getting tense as Li broke again for 1-3, and just as a crucial fifth game got into its stride Li turned her ankle at the back of the court.

The Chinese limped off for a medial timeout, much to the concern of the Melbourne crowd, and after three minutes heavy strapping was not only fit enough to return to court but won her next two points to defend her serve. 0-40 up in the next game, Li lost the next five points as Azarenka showed her ruthless nature to move 4-2 in front.

 

Li turns her ankle in the second

Li turns her ankle in the second

Although Li would bring the set back Azarenka was too good in the final two games, defending her serve to love to take the match into a third set 6-4.

 

Set Three

Shared breaks opened the second set before a long stoppage for the Australia Day fireworks – a mainstay in Melbourne. Just one point into the next game and Li was down again, twisting her ankle off a backhand and hitting her head on the way down to the ground.

Another medical timeout came and went, and it was clear Li was struggling with her game as Azarenka went forward with real purpose. The defending champion shared breaks again before taking out a 5-3 lead and although Li took her to deuce on her serve, Azarenka saw herself just a point away from the title after almost two hours on court.

Azarenka maintained a powerful game to the end

Azarenka maintained a powerful game to the end

 

Li faulted her first before hitting a second serve into the body, which Azarenka hit back to the baseline. The Chinese went for a backhand across the court only to see her shot – and title dreams – fall the wrong side of the line.

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Australian Open: Week One round-up

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Because the Australian Open is played under the blistering daytime heat of the southern hemisphere, Three_Sets has struggled to live as a night owl in the UK. This is worse viewing than an away Ashes series, where at least you have the morning to catch up on the day’s play.

Possibly the one great discouragement about watching the Aussie Open in Europe is the fact that it spans sleeping hours and so, rather than attempt to provide up-to-date news, views and features, a Week One round-up feels far more sufficient.

And what a week it has been for the WTA side of this year’s first Grand Slam. We’ve seen (or for some parts watched back in the highlights) two British players reach the third round, Caroline Wozniacki pick up her form and some big hitters already crash out under the Melbourne sun.

The top seeds – Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska – are all safely though to round four, having dropped just one set between them from a combined 12 matches – naughty naughty Miss Azarenka!

Serena looked as strong as ever when taking apart Ayumi Morita of Japan in the third round, while Sharapova won her first 24 games of the tournament before facing Venus.

Credit must go to Radwanska, however, who looks primed to cause a minor upset this championship and is Three_Sets’ outside tip to reach the final. She plays a much-improved Anna Ivanovic in round four but should have enough to see off the 13th seed, before an expected date with Li Na in the quarters.

Radwanska is on hot form this winterPhoto: Christopher Johnson

Radwanska is on hot form this winter
Photo: Christopher Johnson

Radwanska has won both Auckland and Sydney already this year and is in the form of her life as she aims to take her maiden Grand Slam. With the Pole set to avoid Serena until the final she has a real chance to claim the Aussie Open this January.

Britain’s Laura Robson and Heather Watson have also lit up Week One after both impressing to reach round three. This so rarely happens yet UK fans were still disappointed they both fell at the third hurdle – so good had they been in the opening two rounds.

Robson took down eighth seed Petra Kvitova in round two, a stunning performance that overran by quite a while as the Brit came back to win 2-6 6-3 11-9. That third set was a mammoth task in the sticky heat of the Melbourne evening and may have taken its toll on Robson, who lost to Sloane Stephens two days later.

As for Watson, an elbow injury heading into the tournament didn’t help but she swatted away Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in three sets. Up against the formidable Radwanska Watson had little chance of claiming even a set and the Pole used the advantage of three years more experience on the circuit to cruise through 6-3 6-1.

Certainly the two disappointments so far are Kvitova – who still struggles to reach the form that won her the 2011 Wimbledon crown – and home favourite Sam Stosur, who is turning into the Tim Henman of Melbourne. Stosur has struggled to live up to home expectations since her debut tournament in 2002 and the ninth seed crashed out 6-4 1-6 7-5 to China’s Zheng Jie in the second.

Kvitova between games last season

Kvitova between games last season

The disappointment in the stands was evident and Stosur, a defeated and depleted wreck, left the court in ignominy yet again. At 28 she’s running out of chances to match the expectations of this home crowd – for Stosur hasn’t progressed further than fourth round in 11 attempts.

Week Two offers an even greater spectacle and Three_Sets will hopefully follow it more closely that the scattergun of matches afforded to us in the opening rounds. Can Azarenka, world number one, see off Serena in an expected semi or will she fall just as in Istanbul late last year? Can Sharapova win her second Aussie crown? And could Ivanovic even find the form that has eluded her for so long?

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Big names fall early in Brisbane

 

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in BrisbanePhoto: RaeAllen (flickr)

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane 2013
Photo: RaeAllen (flickr)

The Brisbane International was meant to be the most competitive WTA tournament before the Australian open this January, but no one thought that competition would come from lower ranked players scalping seeded favourites.

Eight of the world’s top 10 players were down to play Brisbane, an event that has grown in stature over the years and is now the biggest pre-Melbourne tournament on the circuit. With a prize fund of $1,000,000 there was genuine excitement that we could witness a quarter-finals bill of all eight top-ranked players, but of course the WTA has proven competitive down the hierarchy with some major scalps already this week.

Writing this article on New Years Day evening (UK time), only four of the eight quarter-finalists have been confirmed yet we have already witnessed some real surprises.

None the least is Ksenia Pervak, Kazakhstan’s little-known qualifier who beat eighth-seed Caroline Wozniacki in the first round 2-6 6-3 7-6 (7-1). Pervak further raised eyebrows in the second round when beating Urszula Radwanska, again coming back from a set down, and should face world number one Victoria Azarenka in the quarters.

Pervak has not been too spectacular either. She made 61 unforced errors against Wozniacki and narrowly beat Radwanska in a third-set tie break, but win she did and the 22-year-old can be proud to have made it this far in such a competitive bill.

There were further shocks in the first round with home favourite Sam Stosur falling in straight sets to Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden, while former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also lost in two sets – to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (pictures) – to limp out early.

Sara Errani failed to continue her good 2012 form into the new year with a second-round loss to Daniela Hantuchova; fourth-seed Angelique Kerber fell to qualifier Monica Puig; while Maria Sharapova pulled out of the tournament before the first round with a collarbone injury.

All in all, Brisbane has not turned out to be the fiercely competitive tournament organisers would have hoped for as the top seeds fall in the early rounds. Still, both Azarenka and Serena Williams are left in he draw and with the pair on one side there is a real chance for a lower-ranked player to make an early WTA tournament final this January.

Three_Sets is hereby backing the young Pervak to continue the scalp and claim victories over both Azarenka and Williams before the final on 6 January. The Kazakh has nothing to lose and clearly the confidence to take on higher-ranked players.

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