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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, October 25, 2020

 
Aryna Sabalenka

A fierce Aryna Sabalenka swept an out-of-sorts Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-2 storming to her seventh career title in Ostrava.

Photo credit: J&T Banka Ostrava Open 2020

The battle of Belarus was a warrior’s waltz.

In the first Belarusian final in WTA history, A fierce and focused Aryna Sabalenka swept an out-of-sorts Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-2 storming to her seventh career title in Ostrava.

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The woman nicknamed “warrior princess” dictated play in a dominant performance. Sabalenka torched her compatriot’s second serve winning 10 of 15 points played on Azarenka’s second serve and breaking five times in a 68-minute thrashing.




Moving fluidly and striking with certainty, Sabalenka won 10 of the first 13 games and hit Azarenka off the court at times. On her third championship point, Sabalenka smacked on ace raising her finals record to 7-4 collecting her first singles title since she won Doha last February.

“Congratulations, yeah this is not the best final,” Sabalenka said to Azarenka afterward. “Hopefully, you will get better soon.”




It was Sabalenka’s second win in three meetings vs. Azarenka as she avenged a straight-sets loss at last month’s US Open.

The fourth-seeded Azarenka, who seemed to be struggling with head or neck pain, took a medical timeout following the third game of the second set and never seemed fully stable in the second set.

“I want to first of all congratulate Aryna on a great week,” Azarenka said. “It was my pleasure to play against you in the final. Unfortunately not the best way, but hope to see you a lot more.”

Contesting her 40th career final, Azarenka won the toss, elected to serve and staved off a couple of break points to hold.



On the surface, the final pitted Azarenka’s accuracy vs. Sabalenka’s power, but the younger Belarusian showed high shot-tolerance from the opening game. In fact, Sabalenka showed tenacity and defense from the opening point ending a rousing 14-shot exchange with a running forehand winner down the line and a firm “come on!”

Though Sabalenka has a well-earned reputation for playing grip-and-rip tennis that can alternate from explosive to erratic, she probed the court with patience before firing the finishing shots today. Transitioning from defense to offense, Sabalenka smacked a menacing forehand for triple break point in the fifth game.

Spreading the court beautifully, Sabalenka torched a forehand winner down the line breaking at love for 3-2. Working through a deuce hold, Sabalenka backed up the break.

In the seventh game, Sabalenka’s skill punishing the mid-court forehand forged another break. The third seed rapped a backhand return winner down the line and fired a forehand winner down the opposite sideline scoring her second straight break for 5-2.




A free flowing Sabalenka hit a crosscourt forehand with sidespin dragging Azarenka off the court setting up an easy backhand to close the 35-minute opener with a love hold. Sabalenka quadrupled Azarenka’s winner output—16 to 8—and committed eight unforced errors channeling her power with placement.

By then, Azarenka was looking a little lethargic. Sabalenka stormed through her second love break of the match punishing a forehand crosscourt for a 2-1 second-set lead.

On the ensuing changeover, a depleted Azarenka took a medical timeout. Slumped in her seat, the US Open finalist took a couple of tablets then laid on the ground as the trainer massaged her temples.

Tennis Express

While Azarenka took treatment, Sabalenka stepped out on court bouncing around and looking eager to finish the job.

Driving a diagonal forehand return winner, Sabalenka broke for 4-1 leaving a dazed Azarenka pressing on her aching head with no apparent remedy for the pain-in-the-neck from the opposite side of the net. Still, Azarenka made a push cracking a cluster of winners to break back in the sixth game.

On this day, nothing could slow Sabalenka’s charge. She cleaned the baseline with a backhand down the line breaking for 5-2.




On her third championship point, Sabalenka swatted an ace closing a lopsided 68-minute final in style.

Despite the defeat, Azarenka can look back on the last three months reigniting her status as a championship contender. The 31-year-old Azarenka concludes the season with an 18-6 mark, including winning the Western & Southern Open title and reaching her third US Open final falling to Naomi Osaka. Azarenka, who was ranked No. 50 in the world at this time last year, started this final at No. 13 in the live rankings.

This match could serve as a launching pad for Sabalenka, who played near flawless tennis and showed patience opening the court before unleashing her jolting power to finish with high-percentage drives.




The 22-year-old Belarusian concludes the season with a 24-10 singles record and may well look back on this week in Ostrava as a milestone that saw her stage a historic fight-back. Looking dazed and confused after dropping 10 straight games to open her quarterfinal, Sabalenka stormed through 12 consecutive games rallying past Sara Sorribes Tormo on Friday.

That spirited stand helped her raise the title trophy today though there was little time for celebration: After a suitable rest, Sabalenka was due back on the court alongside partner Elise Mertens to play the Ostrava doubles final.


 

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