Tennis Identity

Victoria’s Unstoppable Return?

To the chime of Big Ben at 1pm precisely, two WTA players walked out onto centre court to play for a place in the fourth round. Victoria Azarenka has been here many times before, but for the British number 2, Heather Watson this was her debut third round performance. Naturally, the overwhelmingly British crowd was on her side, and this boosted Watson’s confidence as she took the first set 6-3 in under 30 minutes. She was playing well and, as if this was, all pretty routine stuff. We were not expecting that at all.

The Belarusian former world number 1, Victoria Azarenka is returning to competitive play having recently given birth to baby Leo. Azarenka seemed the more nervous in the first set and it showed as she sprayed forehands wide and long. But I have known Azarenka for a long time(in fact predicted she would be world number 1 years before she was), and knew she would fight back. She did exactly that in the second set by  pushing Watson from side to side, opening  up the court to produce winner after winner. With the second set under her belt, Azarenka looked visibly more relaxed whilst Watson’s expression didn’t change one iota. This within itself was a bad sign. Where was the fight and the slapping of the thigh as if to push herself on? How would Watson respond was the metaphorical question hanging in the air?

Well, she held her own in the third set until 3-3. Not unsurprising, but somewhat disappointingly too, the Brit seemed to take fright. In fact, they both did, and neither seemed prepared to take the ball on for fear of missing. It became excruciating to watch as they tapped the ball over the net which typically landed inside the service box. One sensed at this moment, It really was Watson’s match to win if she could find her first set form. Instead Watson offered up two breaks in her service game, but Azarenka, was unable to take either. Somewhat clumsily, and with bad timing, Watson hit a forehand wide at deuce and gave her opponent another chance to clinch the 4-3 lead. Azarenka took it. But soon Azarenka was 15-40 down and Watson looked back in the match. It didn’t last though as Watson failed to return or move well when it was most needed. Her feisty opponent has seen this all before and ramped home her advantage and Azarenka eventually served it out.

Watson will long remember this loss: she should have won. As for Victoria Azarenka? It seems to me, only a fool would discount her picking up the Trophy a week tomorrow, but she will need to raise her game if that is to happen.

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