Saturday, 19 January 2013

Hampton challenges Vika

All the potential of American Jamie Hampton when lined up against the record of world ranked number one and reigning Aus Open champ Victoria Azarenka should not have been sufficient to present more than a passing problem to Vika.

However such is the precocious talent of the current crop of young female tennis players form the States that nothing can be taken for granted.
The two exchanged ferocious ground shots for the first few games, and while Azarenka executed these fairly well it did not mirror the play of a woman who over the past 12 months had fine tuned her game to include the speed and judgment plus shot placement second to none in the world.  Her opponent though was providing enough of a wall to the normally penetrating shots to create some doubt and bother in the mind of Vika.

Only an edge in experience at the top level might have given Vika the chance to break Hampton in the fourth game, and such a chance is rarely ignored, certainly not on this occasion.  Racing to 5-1 is probably not a correct description of how Azarenka achieved that dominant scoreboard ascendancy, because she had to scratch and claw along the road to reach the mark.

The match was even in most respects and just the wrong choices by Hampton at inopportune moments gave Vika the things she needed.  Just how close the contest was in real terms became obvious with Azarenka's two service games after taking the 5-1 advantage.  Unable to close out the set on either of her two attempts at serving for it, Jamie closed things up to 4-5 including holding on to her serve in between those two breaks.

None of this reflected a dominance by Hampton or a total switch in control of the match from one player to the other, merely that the contest was close and decided by which player could exploit the key moments when they arose.

Azarenka managed the situation better at 5-4 when receiving the Hampton serve, and while missing the chance to break wither he first opportunity, created enough pressure for a double fault to sadly end the set at 6-4 in the top seed's favour.

With set two came the emergence of a real talent in Jamie Hampton.  Down a set to the number one seed she could have been forgiven a let down and a straight sets loss, but instead she put the foot down and took control, immediately breaking Azarenka in the first game.  The winners were flowing from her racquet as she chose to be more adventurous, and even when she suffered the short term disappointment of being broken back to be 1-1, she had a composed body language that suggested "minor hiccup".

Minor indeed as Azarenka played another poor game to fall behind a break 1-2, and significantly not be able to dominate points as she usually can against opponents ranked where Hampton is.
The players matched each other in most respects for the remainder of the set but there was no escaping the fact that Hampton was seriously in this with a big chance, her ground strokes at least as damaging as Vika's.

Any break points were saved and it was Jamie Hampton who served out the set to an amazed and thrilled crowd 6-4 and we were to be treated to a decider.

Unluckily Jamie Hampton called for medical assistance for what looked to be a back complaint, and although it didn't appear to impede her progress at first - she broke Vika to take a 2-1 lead in the third and send bookies everywhere into temporary delight - it may have had some impact because Azarenka regrouped successfully to win the remaining five games and the match 6-4 4-6 6-2.

The injury should not be used as an excuse for the loss - a factor maybe but not the driving one.
Jamie Hampton had herself in position to win a third round match and has the game to do so in future against one of the world's best.  She just needs that extra experience to be able to deliver the knock out punch when required.

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