The WTA called it a "dream final," and for Victoria Azarenka, it was probably a dream come true. The world number 1 (well, at least until tomorrow) defeated her tennis nemesis, Serena Williams, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the final of the Qatar Total Open in Doha. Azarenka is now 2-11 against Williams, who will become the world number 1 when the rankings are published tomorrow.
Azarenka had to save a set point in the first set tiebreak, and when she won that tiebreak, it was hard not to think about the fact that--71 consecutive times, after winning the first set--Azarenka has won the match. That's quite a statistic. The top seed's serve abandoned her in the second set, however, and she was broken fairly easily by Williams, who won the set 6-2.
The third set was a test of Azarenka's mental strength. She was a bit shaky as she served the first game, but then something clicked into place, and the next thing you knew, she was up 3-0. That had to make her feel good, but she wasn't facing just anyone--she was playing Serena Williams. No worries, though. Azarenka went up 5-2, though Williams held for 3-5. Azarenka's final service game was smooth and easy, and she can now add Doha to her list of titles.
Williams was clearly what we would call "out of sorts" in this match, which lasted almost 2 1/2 hours. The new world number 1's only true weakness is her footwork, and when she's having an o.o.s. day, it becomes a major problem. By contrast, Azarenka's footwork was admirable, and her retrieving was nothing short of brilliant. This match was very enjoyable to watch, largely because of Azarenka's relentless return game.
Once again, commentators failed to pronounce the name of the country in which they were broadcasting, sometimes even mispronouncing it two different ways (both incorrect) in the same sentence.
And that brings me to a discussion I watched (well, I watched part of it) on Tennis Channel yesterday. A group of experts moaned about the good old days when the Williams sisters were at the top of the tour, or when Martina Hingis ruled. Their reason? Those players were well known by fans, and today's top players aren't. Well, whose fault is that? With the exception of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the media machine has pretty much ignored the WTA's top players--except to launch constant attacks on Azarenka. The WTA doesn't seem to care about this situation, and perhaps it's just as well, because a strong marketing effort to promote female athletes always means a strong effort to promote sexism and misogyny.
Play begins in Dubai tomorrow. If Azarenka gets to the final, she can be world number 1 again. That is, unless Williams gets to the final, too. In that case, Azarenka would have to beat Williams again in order to take the top ranking back.