Saturday, 26 January 2013

Winner to move to 2 GS Singles Titles

Ok here we are about to witness the Women's Singles final for 2013 and I am hearing commentator after commentator selecting Li Na on the basis of Victoria Azarenka not doing the 'right thing' one game from the finish on the way to a straight sets win over Sloane Stephens.

Well that was over 48 hours ago.  Azarenka is fully fit, is a better all round player, is the defending champion, who also knows how to destroy Maria Sharapova on this court (and that was in a final), and has won the last four battles over Li Na, 3 of those on hard courts.

This final will be decided not by who is the crowd favourite.  Roger Federer may have had the lion's share of support in his semi final with the sum result that he had more shoulders to cry on once he lost.

So call my selection outlandish but I am basing it on tennis and am picking the top seed and defending champion who also reached the final of the last contested Grand Slam tournament, and pushed the great Serena Williams to the limit.  Azarenka has only lost one set early this tournament and has not been faced with a set point since.

Of course the final should provide the contest we did not receive last year because Li Na always gives her all and she has plenty to donate, both heart and skill.  There is room for an upset, but it would require a form reversal from Azarenka.

As the players arrived on court, the greetings were loudly pro Li Na as predicted, but thankfully not overtly negative towards Victoria Azarenka, polite applause or silence indicating the feelings of many people.

Li Na served first.   A double fault was not the ideal first point but the forehand down the line winner steadied her nerves, before Azarenka won the early battle of ground strokes to break a tight struggle and lead 1-0.

The errors continued in the second game and another serve was broken, not due to anything special from the returner, whereas game three gave us initial signs that we were watching a Grand Slam tournament final.  Li Na played a forehand winner to end a fine rally which seemed to trigger both girls into playing some decent tennis, and Li Na to finally do enough to take a 2-1 lead to the sit down.

After engaging in ball bashing for a few points, Li Na caressed a forehand up the line past a bemused Azarenka to set up break points in the fourth game, the first of which she converted for a 3-1 lead.  After reaching 30-30 following a slashing backhand down the line, Azarenka had to return the first serve of Li Na consistently.  However, the sixth seed sprayed too many ground strokes and lost her way and the serve.

Loose shots by Vika together with a fine backhand return by Li and another down the line for a winner and the break gave her the edge again 4-2.  Having seen her excellent serving percentages, Li decided it was about time to take advantage of them and she did by running Vika ragged in the next game to consolidate the break for 5-2.  Semi final form was being brought to court for the big one so far.

Adrenalin seemed to assist a few of Li Na's shots long in Vika's next service game and that outweighed the good placement on others which was clearly worrying the top seed.  5-3.
Serving for the set was proven again to be one of the most difficult tasks assigned a player, with Li Na soon at 0-40.  One point was saved with a great winner, but too little too late and we were back on serve with Vika serving to stay in the set 4-5.

Unfortunately the set was lost on a double fault, but before that we had a forehand winner from Li off a second serve from Vika, a forehand approach and follow up volley from Vika to save a set point, and another forehand winner from Li to give her a set point.  It was the best quality game of the match, with the most disappointing method of finish.  6-4 to Li Na.

Game one of Set 2 reverted to errors as the prime means of point decision for both players.  Li Na appeared to want to provide less of the poor shots but in the end was over generous and it cost her the serve, and Vika led 1-0.  Then for the first time Azarenka took a clear advantage despite the constant winners from Li Na.  Luckily for the top seed, these had been interspersed recently with several errors and it was finally an Azarenka gem touching the line but not the Li racquet that won her the game and 2-0.

The third game saw glimpses of the all court game from Vika, and Li Na being pushed wide on both sides, as another serve form the Chinese star was dropped.  3-0 Azarenka.

Those glimpses fast became a distant memory; Vika was all at sea serving for a big lead, instead being broken for a more manageable (for Li) 3-1 advantage.  At 30-15 on the Li Na serve Azarenka looked to have won the point by wrong footing Li behind the base line.  However, immediately it was obvious that the sudden movement had done serious damage to the ankle area of her left foot.  Li took weight of the leg and we thought the worst.

She took to the court again with some serious strapping and we awaited nervously.  40-30 after she negotiated the first point post injury with a winner.  The next point ditto.  3-2 Azarenka and maybe the extent of the injury short term would not be an inhibiting factor.  One could only hope.

Vika played the first 3 points of the next game as if she was the one injured before realising that she hadn't been and rattled off some fine shots including brilliant recoveries, to hold serve and lead 4-2.
Two successive double faults had Li at 15-40 and in danger of going down a double break.  Vika helped her find her way back to deuce which inspired a backhand passing shot from the sixth seed's racquet followed by another into open court for the service hold.  Azarenka now up 4-3.

Azarenka had regrouped a little from a dangerous position on serve before pursuing this preoccupation with the drop shot that all top players seem to have. It was a disaster, and have Li break points of which she used one and brought games back to 4-4.

Not even a beautiful forehand winner from Li Na in the ninth game could cover up the cracks made with a plethora of errors all over the court which together negated all the previous good work and gave Vika the chance to level the match.

Victoria Azarenka served out the set 6-4 and we had a third set decider to come.  Li Na's foot now appeared to be alright and not in need of surgery or replacement.  It may have just been a bruise to a toe nail.

The third set began with two breaks of very nervous serving efforts before Li Na safely held on before the Australia Day fireworks untimely delay.  Then it was fireworks of the Li Na kind as at 15-0 on Vika's serve the sixth seed crashed to the ground hitting her head hard.
As we should expect that would be insufficient to stop the warrior and she fought off the medicos to come back and even achieve break point, Vika denying that one and proceeding to 2-2.

Azarenka now appeared to have the measure of Li Na's serve and was at least her equal around the court once the rallies commenced.  Another break arrived and Vika took the advantage to 3-2.

A couple of errors by Li Na contributed to a comfortable hold by Azarenka in the sixth game and she eked the lead out to 4-2 with the title ever closer.  Li kept within a single break by holding in the seventh highlighted by further winners from both sides.

In the eighth game, Li Na had Azarenka at 0-30 and 30-40 before the top seed fired in her best quality tennis to drive home the final points of the game and at 5-3 be touching distance now from 2 of these titles in succession.

In the ninth game, Li Na serving, The sixth seed played backhand winners to move from 0-15 to 30-15 and then at 40-30 she committed a trio of unforced errors and the match was over.

The 2013 Womens Singles Champion was the defending champion Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets over a battered and bruised but still smiling and gallant Li Na 4-6 6-4 6-3.

Vika will retain her number one ranking by virtue of the win, leading marginally over new number two Serena Williams, while Sharapova drops to three.  Li Na moves up to five, but gains enough points to be a serious challenger to Radwanska at four later this year.

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