French Open 2015: Serena Survives Third Round Battle

French Open 2015: Serena Survives Third Round Battle

Photo credit: rolandgarros.com

Another stunning match between two storied rivals.

And the same result.

Serena Williams advanced to the fourth round of Roland-Garros 2015 after a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka, a glorious two-hour-plus battle ending at nearly 9pm in Paris on Saturday night.

Williams, the top seed and tournament favourite, staged another of her patented comebacks against an opponent who for the first set-and-a-half looked poised to pull off the tournament’s biggest upset.

You have to feel for Azarenka. She’s shown she can beat Williams – having won big finals over the American great in Miami, Doha and Cincinnati over the years – but in Grand Slam matches, she now trails the head-to-head 0-9.

She led Serena by a set at Australian Open 2009 before succumbing to illness. At the same tournament the following year in the quarter-finals, she built a 6-4, 4-0 lead only for Williams to come storming back. She served for their epic 2012 US Open final when leading 5-3 in the third, then watched as Serena reeled off four straight games for victory.

And then, of course, there was the pair’s dramatic match in Madrid earlier this month; Azarenka held three match points before Williams won in a third-set tiebreak.

Today on Philippe-Chatrier Court, she lead by a set and 4-2, and by 2-0 in the third, yet could not get over the line.

However, the tennis world can thank Azarenka for being a player who is frequently able to push Williams to the limit; in an era in which Serena has few true rivals, their matches are genuine blockbusters.

Williams played her part in the classic, summoning her best tennis when down – as she often does – and wresting control of the match thanks to a succession of winners.

“I put that one pretty high (on my list), because I was just really down and out in that match, and I just feel like I just really zeroed in,” Williams said.

“I really focused and I really wanted to win that.”

She had looked sluggish early on. Azarenka arrived on court dialed in and ready to play, landing a high percentage of first serves and varying her delivery nicely to keep Williams off balance. She also returned with laser precision and impressive pace; Serena was frequently caught by surprise by the quality of Azarenka’s shots, and often responded with errors.

That’s exactly how the first set ended – two big first served from the Belarusian forced identical return errors from Williams’ racquet.

Although Williams’ intensity improved in the second set, Azarenka managed to sustain a high level for much of it, building her aforementioned 4-2 lead. There was no one moment where the switch flipped – the No.1 seed simply tightened up her game and stopped missing. She began to gain control of the rallies and Azarenka pressed; misfiring more regularly, she watched Serena draw level, and then slam and ace for a 5-4 lead.

Not that the quality of tennis was suffering. The crowd was enjoying the intensity of the shot-making, especially when Azarenka recovered from 0-40 down to save three set points. She soon faced another when she narrowly missed a drop shot, and then come drama was added to the mix – on the ensuing point, the 27th seed played a forehand that clipped the line yet yet was called out, late. Although Azarenka argued that the late call did not hamper Williams’ swing, the umpire determined the point be replayed, much to Azarenka’s displeasure.

She lost the next point – and the second set.

Anger fuelled Vika at the beginning of the third set; the ferocity in her game seemed to shock Williams, who quickly fell behind 2-0. When the American double-faulted to open the third game, Azarenka appeared in a commanding position.

That was until the winners suddenly began flowing from Williams’ racquet; she leveled at 2-2, produced a 202km/h ace on her way to holding for 3-2, and started to wear Azarenka down with her consistency and power. After a wild forehand error and a scream of frustration, Azarenka surrendered serve to fall behind 4-2.

“Nobody is probably harder than (her) for me to play against. She’s the toughest competitor,” Azarenka said of Williams.

“Sometimes when you’re down and you have nothing to lose at one point, and you get loose and you start swinging. I feel that’s part of what happened. But Serena is a great champion. She knows how to turn it up sometimes, and I have to look at it and just learn a little bit more from that.”

Williams would win eight of the final nine points – the last a stunning forehand crosscourt passing shot – to secure her passage through to the second week.

“Even though I lost the first set, I told myself, well, at least you’re playing better than I did in my second-round match, because I would have lost so easy had I played that same way,” Williams reflected.

“I think overall, it was definitely better. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I really want to be here.”

Read more at http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/news/articles/2015-05-30/serena_overcomes_vika_in_dramatic_match.html#Pw8vz75yq6kQI2MA.99
Read more at http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/news/articles/2015-05-30/serena_overcomes_vika_in_dramatic_match.html#LWekGocMDkezKjho.99

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Denise J. Saul is the Founder/President of WSEN-Women's Sports & Entertainment Network.

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