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Williams storms back to beat Azarenka

By: Allan Blanks

Serena Williams continues to prove she is the best in the world by finding way to win no matter what the situation is.

Serena Williams continues to prove she is the best in the world by finding way to win no matter what the situation is.

If there is a way to win, Serena Williams will find it. After being held to 10 winners in the first set, Williams went on a scoring spree, and unleashed 31 winners to defeat her rival Victoria Azarenka, 3­-6, 6­-4, 6­-2. This was the 19th meeting between the two, and the seventh time their matchup was decided in three sets. This showdown featured former hitting partners, controversial rulings and intense match play. Distractions were rampant and the ability to focus made the difference between advancing to the round of 16 and going home.

“I was really down and out,” Williams said. “I just zeroed in and focused. I really wanted to win.”

Azarenka led in each set but was unable to contain the shot-making of Williams. For the 31st time in her career, Williams overcame a first set loss at a major before winning the contest.

“She really stepped it up” Azarenka said. “Nobody is probably harder…For me to play against.”

Williams increased her series lead to 16-­3 and bolsters a 9­-0 record against Azarenka in grand slam tournaments. Although the rivalry is lopsided, the average margin of victory is by a mere two games. With this win, the top seeded Williams earned her 50th French Open victory, and became the first woman to accumulate 50 wins at every major.

“It [earning 50 wins at each major] just feels weird to me,” Williams said. “I was thinking Martina (Navratilova) did it [first] or Chrissy Everett. That’s just strange but I feel good about it.”

In the opening set, Williams had little to feel good about as she was dominated in total points won, 34­-26. After a previous defeat to Williams in Madrid, Azarenka looked to make a statement as she held serve, and broke Williams to jump ahead, 2­-0. In an effort to neutralize Williams return of serve, the Belarusian directed flat serves to Williams’ body. To further frustrate the world’s number one, Azarenka delivered low­lying drop shots, penetrating approaches, and sharp angled volleys. In the early goings, Azarenka scored on 77­-percent of her first serves, converted 67­-percent of breakpoints, and nailed 80­-percent at the net.

For the first 40-minutes, Williams struggled to find an answer for her opponent. Recently, Williams former hitting partner Sascha Bajin joined forces with Azarenka’s coaching staff. Bajin was approached by Azarenka in February, and officially ended his partnership with Williams on March 1, 2015. Bajin and Williams practiced together for eight years.

With the second stanza underway, Williams made two critical adjustments. Rather than trade shots to the center of the baseline, Williams methodically attacked angles and painted lines. In doing so, the American varied the pace and location of her shots. While Azarenka scrambled to cover the court, she lost time to set her feet and dictate points. This strategy opened the court for Williams, and allowed her to find the net. Williams crushed 18 winners and converted 83-­percent of her volleys. The second key for Williams was the consistent application of the kick serve. Whether out wide or down the t, Azarenka was forced out of position and unable to generate deep returns. Williams posted three aces and won 65­percent of points on her first serve.

Despite building a 4-­2 lead, an off­balanced Azarenka could not stop the momentum of Williams. This second set blunder by Azarenka would be second consecutive collapse against Williams. While competing in Madrid, Azarenka blew three set points before Williams defeated her. In the third round of the French Open, Azarenka relinquished yet another opportunity to close Williams out.

Down 4­-5, Azarenka quickly gave Williams a 40­-0 advantage and set point. However, the Belarusian served her way back into the contest and forced deuce. With Williams behind the baseline, Azarenka misfired a drop shot which gave the advantage to Williams. On the ensuing rally, Azarenka blasted a shot by Williams that appeared to have grazed the baseline. Williams attempted to put the ball back into play but her shot spun into the net.

However, during the baseline rally a linesmen called Azarenka’s shot long and rewarded Williams with the game and set. Chair umpire Kader Nouni intervened by stepping onto the court and overruled the call.

Nouni granted Azarenka a replay but refused to award her the point. Since Williams hit the ball into the net, Azarenka believed she earned the point. On the other hand, Nouni argued that the linesmen distracted Williams with the call and hindered the point. With the point replayed, Williams saw an opening and delivered a ferocious forehand down the line to claim the second set.

“We need to have a review [system],” Azarenka said. “You know, to have a damn review, because it was so clear. But in that moment, if you don’t have a review like that, it’s causing a lot of problem(s).“

The French Open has yet to adopt hawk­eye technology and continues to rely on ball marks imprinted within the clay.

Before the start of the third and final set, Azarenka took a bathroom break and returned with a vengeance. Azarenka broke Williams and held serve to take a 2-­0 lead. Despite Azarenka’s determination, Williams proved to be too much as she continued to connect kick serves and attack angles. Again, Azarenka failed to hold a critical lead and Williams found a way to win. Williams won six straight games and closed the match with a blistering cross-court forehand.

Williams will face American Sloane Stephens in the round of 16. Williams leads their series, 4-­1.

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Allan Blanks

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