September 9, 2013 by Parveer Mann
There was the distinct point at 15-40, 1-2 down in the second set that I wrote in my notes that Victoria Azarenka desperately needed this break to realistically stay alive. Well, the next four points almost on cue were an ace, two long forehands by Vika and a winner by Serena to end the game.
It now seemed inevitable that we were destined to another tidy two-set affair for Serena but instead, we got lucky and experienced over 30 minutes of tense, thrilling action and a women’s final that was worthy of its advanced billing.
Push and Pull between these two
It may be the most difficult thing to do in tennis, getting Serena Williams to act like she is in a real showdown with her opponent. For the past few years (at least since the end of the Henin, Clijsters and V. Williams era), when Serena is pushed it is largely her own doing. She struggles with conditions (like early in this final), injuries or is riddled with inconsistency. However, it seems to be different in a Serena-Vika showdown.
When pushed by Vika: The normal issues and excuses rarely figure in. She is being forced to hit an extra shot or play deeper on the baseline than her normal attacking position. It is also a time when you truly get to see Serena’s brilliance on display. There were multiple occasions in this match that she pulled off a spectacular half-court inside out winner that is not only brilliant but necessary due to the pressure applied by Azarenka.
When pushed by Serena: The head bobbing Azarenka seems even more focused. She knows her greatest weapon (her return) has to be on display against the greatest serve in women’s tennis. Also, Vika seems more athletic and her court coverage looks to be vastly improved chasing down Serena forehands. The only flaw is that Vika’s serve never seems to elevate even in the big moments. It remains a huge liability in a matchup where she has little room for error.
When they push each other: The tennis fan gets a tension-filled dose of theatre. It exceeds anything that is currently on tour and helps engineer lasting images like that latest Serena celebration. It proves that when two players can challenge each other, three hours of drama is well worth it.
US Open Stars (Women’s Draw)
Serena Williams. A fifth championship and 17th Grand Slam. Check and Check
Italian Women. You had Flavia Pennetta’s breakthrough but also solid performances by Camila Giorgi and Roberta Vinci.
Victoria Duval. When you’re 17, beat a former champion, have that tremendous backstory and get to go on the Tonight Show, you earn a star on this list.