Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Float like a butterfly, look like a bee

World number 1 Victoria Azarenka, decked out  like a speeding bumblebee (she's actually wearing a shade of neon green, but on all of my screens, the color appears more yellowish), defeated U.S. Open defending champion Sam Stosur today in their quarterfinal match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Azarenka and Stosur had played six times before, and Azarenka had won every one of those matches in straight sets. Today, however, was a different story, even though that story ended the same way.

Azarenka cruised through the first part of the opening set. At 3-0, there was a rain break that lasted for an hour and 15 minutes. When play resumed, Azarenka had a bit of a problem serving at 4-1, but managed to hold. She won the first set 6-1.

Stosur broke right away in the seond set, and Azarenka broke her right back. Azarenka then began making unforced errors, and--on her third break point--Stosur produced a 3-4 score. Her confidence on the rise, the defending champion started playing much more aggressively, and took the second set 6-4. this was, of course, the first time she ever taken a set off of the world number 1.

Azarenka got an early break in the third set, giving her a 3-1 lead. Stosur then served at 0-40, and was broken at 15. Those who have watched both Stosur and Azarenka could have been forgiven for expecting a bit of an Australian meltdown at this point, but that didn't happen. Instead, Stosur saved a game point on Azarenka's next serve, and the game went to deuce. Azarenka then hit a drop shot into the net, but saved a break with an especially good serve. But Stosur would then crack one of her many dominant forehand shots to get to her second break point, which she converted by again hitting a mighty forehand.

Stosur looked very confident in her next service game, which she punctuated with an ace to get to 4-all. In the next game, the Australian showed a kind of patience she doesn't always display, engaging Azarenka in a bit of cat-and-mouse play, but Azarenka held for 5-4. Stosur replied with a strong service game. Then Azarenka held again, as did Stosur, and a tiebreak ensued. And really, in this exciting and excellent match, what more could fans have asked for?

The world number 1 was quick to dominate in the tiebreak, going up 4-0, mostly because of Stosur's unforced errors. Had Stosur finally cracked? Yes, but only for a little while. Perhaps playing those nine match points against Laura Robson gave her a new kind of toughness? At any rate, Stosur held both of her serves, to make the score 3-4. Azarenka held serve for 5-3, but then she double-faulted (who's nervous now?). Stosur then tied the score at 5-all on her own serve, but--after a ball from her racquet just rolled over the netcord--Azarenka retrieved it and won the next point with a drop shot. It was 6-5, with Azarenka serving.

The Belarusian faulted on her first serve, which probably gave considerable relief to her opponent, but when Stosur popped a ball out of the court during a rally on Azarenka's second serve, the match was over, and Azarenka had advanced to the semifinals.

Azarenka's victory keeps her as number 1 in the world. The match could have gone either way, but Azarenka managed to pull off the win over a very tough opponent. Stosur served well, moved well, and hit well. The two-hour and 23-minute match was a highlight of this year's Open, and now Azarenka will get the winner of Maria Sharapova vs. Marion Bartoli match. That match was stopped because of rain. When the players left the court, Bartoli was leading 4-0 in the first set. Play will resume tomorrow. In the meantime, for those of you who can't get enough of the Frenchwoman, here she is preparing for the U.S. Open:

And now it's time to talk about Italians again! Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won their quarterfinal match, 6-2, 7-6, against Julia Goerges and Kveta Peschke. Errani is now the number 1 doubles player in the world, and Vinci is the new world number 2. Errani is the second Italian woman in history to get the number 1 ranking; Flavia Pennetta held it for 18 weeks last year.

In mixed doubles, top seeds Liezel Huber and Max Mirnyi will play Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski in the semifnals. The other semifinal will feature Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak playing against Ekaterina Makarova and Bruono Soares.

Play has begun on the junior level, and both Australian Open champion Taylor Townsend and Wimbledon champion Eugenie Bouchard won their opening rounds, as did Victoria Duval. Townsend is the top seed.

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