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Friday, February 3, 2012

Testing 'The Brave One'

When Victoria Azarenka celebrated her victories down under, she did it with her tongue out and her index finger raised high, urging the crowd to believe she was, indeed, the best. And while the bold pose might have seemed premature, she backed it up with stunning tennis, clinching her maiden slam title and her place as world number one.

AP Photo
It seems all the pieces of the puzzle have finally come together in Azarenka's game. We've known she can hit the ball hard for years, but something about Aussie Vika looked different... she looked controlled. She placed her shots with startling precision, came to net with predator-like aggression and, on occassion, used biting slice to knock her opponents out of their rhythm. The variety Azarenka put on display as she moved toward her first slam championship was not only impressive, but refreshing, and the lid she has suddenly put on her boiling emotions keeps everything in check. Should she keep her services errors at a minimum, she has the tools to become a dominant competitor.

Azarenka did the unthinkable in Melbourne when she battled back from a second set nightmare against Kim Clijsters, and no tennis fan will soon forget the supreme beat-down Azarenka dealt Maria Sharapova in the tournament final (6-3 6-0 for those of you living under a rock, or watching football). But there's a new challenge for Victoria fast-approaching that might take away some of the "Ozarenka" flare: and her name is Serena Williams

Photo by Julian Finney, Getty Images
This weekend the United States will host Belarus in a FedCup tie featuring Grand Slam worthy match-ups. The USA is loaded with both Serena and Venus Williams as well as sharpshooter Christina McHale and doubles specialist Liezel Huber. How will the new world no.1 handle her first big test?

Worcester's DCU Center might not be as glorious as the lawns of the All-England Club, but there's a clear and tangible sense of importance about the matches at stake. Serena botched her final at the US Open last year, and she gifted away a victory to AO quarter-finalist Ekatarina Makarova, but there's little doubt that she will bring a terrifying game to the court when she faces Azarenka. We know Serena demands perfection from herself and we know she believes she is the world's best, so what is a better way to send a message to the WTA tour than by dismantling the new no.1 ranked player?

Still, Azarenka is called 'The Brave One,' and having played the Williams sisters before she should not be intimidated. The chances that she will fall meekly to Serena Willliams are slim to none. All you have to do is watch the highlights of their third round slam-fest from the 2011 US Open to see just how willing to fight Azarenka is, and how deadly she can be on a comeback. Yes, Serena wound up victorious, but losing that match might have taught Azarenka more than any victory ever could.


This will be the first match for Azarenka since winning the Australian Open, and while other recent first-time winners suffered serious problems after joining the slam club (I'm looking at you, Li and Stosur) I doubt that Azarenka will suffer the same fate.

-Kedzie Teller, Senior Editor

ITBTennis will be attending the USA/Belarus tie, video and camera in hand.Check back soon for an up-close look.


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