Forget the 13 next to Victoria Azarenka’s name at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. Yes, she was the 13th seed. But that is only due to taking an extended period of time to come back to form from injury. There are, in my opinion, four players who currently, if playing their best, separate themselves from everybody else regardless of where they happen to be ranked; Serena Williams (of course), Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka. With Petra unable to find any kind of consistency outside of Wimbledon and Masha on an extended vacation due to a failed test for meldonium, the best matchup possible in terms of marquee value was Serena vs Vika. Venus vs Serena probably has more star appeal, but at this point in her career Venus isn’t quite what she once was.
So it was fortuitous that women’s tennis was blessed with a match to take its mind off the controversy swirling around the game the last few weeks. Vika showed why she has given Serena all she could handle in past years, win or lose. For all of her great skills, Azarenka is perhaps the only player right now, other than Venus, that looks Serena in the eye and doesn’t blink. Vika is not intimidated by anybody. Serena had Vika under constant pressure in the final, recording 12 break point opportunities. Vika only cracked once, while converting 3 of 4 break chances against Williams. Azarenka fighting off 11 of 12 break chances is as much about poise and heart as talent and ability. Vika was down double break point (15-40) in the final game of the match before rallying back to finally close out Serena in straight sets, 6-4 6-4.
Any time a player can defeat Serena, it’s a great win. For Vika, the fact that it occurred at Indian Wells, arguably the “fifth Major” (the attendance for Indian Wells last year equalled that of Roland Garros), gives it even more significance. If Azarenka can stay healthy…and that’s a big if…the tennis season gets a lot more interesting on the women’s side. We can’t just pencil in Serena as the winner in every event she plays. This was Williams’ second consecutive loss in a final. To show how consistently dominant she’s been, that hasn’t happened since Sharapova beat Serena at Wimbledon and Los Angeles…way back in 2004!!! And we know what Serena has done to Masha since then. We’ll see if Serena takes this loss to Azarenka as a similar challenge.
13 VICTORIA AZARENKA d. 1 Serena Williams, 6-4 6-4