The New Queen
I knew that Victroia Azarenka was playing well, but I picked against her thinking that the moment of a first Grand Slam final would be overwhelming. I was wrong and saw a player with steely nerves. Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title and claimed the #1 ranking. Her game is ideally suited to clay and she performed well at Wimbledon in 2011 so the Belarusian will have chances to win another Grand Slam title in short order if she handles her new status well.
Not a One Slam Wonder
I mention a second slam for a reason. Azarenka seems to have a mindset that will fuel her pursuit of more big titles. I should mention that Petra Kvitova will also pursue these titles. It is premature to say that Sam Stosur will not win another slam, but players such as Jana Novatna and pre-retirement Kim Clijsters seemed to lose their competitive edge after winning a Grand Slam title. I think Azarenka and Kvitova are driven. For this reason, women’s tennis should be happy. Hopefully Stosur and Na Li are also similarly driven. Azarenka’s reaction of pure joy tells me she will want that type of big win in the future.
Taking The Ball Early
Victoria Azarenka won in large part by stealing time from Maria Sharapova. She hugged the baseline and hit balls standing inside of the baseline. This forced Sharapova’s scrambling abilities to be the terms upon which the more experienced player would either win or lose the match. Sharapova is not good at scrambling. Azarenka won 6-3, 6-0 claiming 12 of the final 13 games of the match.
I will add that Novak Djokovic’s ability to take the ball earlier than Nadal is why I think Nole wins his 3rd Australian Open title. The introduction of new string materials and stringing techniques seemed to end the Agassi led days of players slugging away from inside the baseline. It will be interesting if we see players whose techniques have adapted to the new strings begin to creep back into the court and play rallies in a manner akin to how Jimmy Connors played. Tennis is cyclical. Roger Federer does often hug the baseline or play inside the court, but his one handed backhand allows for him to be pushed back. Novak Djokovic is harder to push back, and therefore he can dictate points.
The New Top 4
A major plus for Victoria Azarenka is that she is #1 without any of the nagging questions that were thrown at Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki. Petra Kvitova is positioned at #2 and should make a push for #1 during the upcoming months. Maria Sharapova is deserving at #3 however two one-sided Grand Slam final losses in the past 52 weeks have to sting. Caroline Wozniacki is now #4 and may face less scrutiny as she aims toward a major title. In addition, Na Li, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur can all plausibly win a major in 2012. This depth is good for the WTA and ITF so long as Azarenka and Kvitova lead the charge. I am betting that this will occur and women’s tennis will transition into a new era.