By Erik Gudris / Sunday, August 18, 2013
Victoria Azarenka put herself firmly back in the conversation for the upcoming U.S. Open by defeating Serena Williams in the Western & Southern Open finals.
(Photo Credit: AP)
To do so, Azarenka overcame a slow start and a tightrope-like finish against top seed Serena Williams in Sunday's finals that featured both women contending for their first ever title in Cincinnati.
After an up and down summer that had some questioning her chances heading into New York, Victoria Azarenka reconfirmed her status as a top contender for the U.S. Open by winning the Western and Southern Open title.
Azarenka got off to a rough start in her opening service game by tossing in two double faults. That helped Williams break Azarenka's serve and soon open up a 4-1 lead. Azarenka won only 11 points total while Williams crunched 13 winners en route to a quick 6-2 first set.
But the reversal of fortune soon came in the second set with Azarenka striking her returns much cleaner while Williams' level dropped. Now it was Azarenka who got the early break and eventually a 4-1 lead.
A sluggish looking Williams, playing in her 10th match in 15 days, then fought her way through a marathon sixth game that featured 13 deuces, seven break points and an argument between Azarenka and the chair umpire over a Hawk-Eye challenge. Williams held for 2-4 and in the next game and found herself up 0-40 thanks to a perfectly timed backhand lob.
But Williams couldn't manage to convert any of her break points as Azarenka held for 5-2. The current Australian Open champion then broke Williams again with a drop shot winner for 6-2.
The final set became a guessing game for fans trying to decide who would win it all. With Azarenka's confidence surging along with her penetrating returns, she earned an early break and then went up 4-2. But Williams upped her aggression with big hitting of her own. She broke Azarenka, held serve, and then with a successful Hawk-Eye challenge of her own, that showed an Azarenka backhand had gone wide, Williams then found herself at 5-4 and serving for the match.
But a sloppy game from Williams allowed Azarenka right back in at 5-all. Soon Williams was serving to stay in the match at 5-6, but did so with ease to force a final set tiebreak.
Saving some of their best tennis for last, both women attacked returns and punched away volleys to stay level with each other. With Williams up 5-4, she had a chance at a match point when a scrambling Azarenka found herself well-off court. But Williams, with the whole court open, sent the ball well long for 5-all.
Williams saved one match point against her with a big return to even the breaker at 6-all. A clutch volley winner from Azarenka soon set up another match point for her. When Williams netted on the final point, an elated Azarenka celebrated the hard fought 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) victory.
"The last couple of weeks and even the month were really tough but whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I truly believe that," Azarenka said about her tough summer leading up to this week's event. "It's been an incredible week here and thanks to Serena for an incredible match."
Azarenka is now 2-1 over Williams this season with an earlier win in the Doha finals. Cincinnati is Azarenka's third title of the season. Both Williams and Azarenka will be the top two seeds heading into next week's U.S. Open.
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