The First Set: Windy Start
Serena and Vika both struggled early with the windy conditions, but through the first 10 games of the match Vika seemed more comfortable. The trouble for her was that she was tied at 5-5. With Serena serving at 4-5, Vika forced two deuces, but could not generate a break point/set point. Once Serena got the set to 5-5 everything shifted toward her, and she ran out the set.
The Second Set: When 3 Breaks Aren’t Enough
If a case could be made that Vika should have won the first set, it is a fact that Serena Williams should have won the second set. Serena built a two break lead only to see one break erased. Still, Serena served for the match at 7-5, 5-4 only to be broken. Then, Serena regrouped to break serve at 5-5 to take a 6-5 lead. Surely, a second chance to serve the championship out would succeed. Instead, we were treated to a tiebreak. Serena regrouped again and pushed the tiebreak to 6-6 after saving two set points. Two points from victory or a third set saw the second set stolen by Azarenka who seemingly trailed Serena during the entire set until the tiebreak.
The Third Set: When a Manufactured Hold Wins It
Serena was not in good spirits after dropping the second set she should have won. Serena was 2 points from the title in the tiebreak and 3 points from the title when serving at 5-4, 15-0 and 6-5, 15-0. Serena opened the 3rd set by falling behind 0-30. If Vika breaks there, who knows. Instead Serena manufactured a hold. That ability to not allow an avalanche of bad feelings after dropping the second set and seeing the trophy move further from her grasp turned the match in her favor.
Moving Forward for Vika
Azarenka clearly is #2 in the world. Her hard court game can trouble Serena Williams, and she did win the 2013 Australian Open. Her road forward needs to include a stronger first and second serve. She does not necessarily need to add kph/mph, but Azarenka needs to make her serve less easy for the elite returners to pressure. Better placements and variety could be just as strong of a change as adding pace. Also, her second serve needs to become heavier and more reliable as double faults hurt her at key moments. Finally, Vika needs to commit herself to being better on red clay. Those improvements will help her challenge Serena and perhaps become the next dominating number one in women’s tennis.
Serena and History
Serena Williams has dominated 2013. She is number one in the world. Sure, Victoria Azarenka is a worthy number two who can actually pressure Serena. Also, Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens have the potential to become quite dangerous down the road. For now, Serena is the undisputed queen of women’s tennis.
With 17 Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal in singles, Serena is in rare historical company. If Serena wins only one major in 2014, she will still tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert’s career total of 18 Grand Slam singles titles. Serena is in a spot where she can etch her name in multiple pages of the tennis history books. Serena was not as consistent as some of the other historical greats, but her slam longevity currently stretches 14 years from the 1999 US Open to the 2013 US Open. Steffi Graf’s slams stretch 12 years from the 1987 French Open to the 1999 French Open. Chris Evert’s slams stretch 12 years from the 1974 French Open to the the 1986 French Open. Martina Navratilova’s slams stretch 12 years as well ranging from Wimbledon 1978 to Wimbledon 1990. Serena has had similar but better longevity. Her career’s historical standing will only keep rising if she keeps winning majors into 2014, 2015 and beyond as her superior longevity will be even more evident. The odds seem almost certain that Serena will at least tie Evert and Navratilova next year. If Serena picks up 2-3 majors in 2014, Steffi’s 22 look quite attainable. As I recently noted, Margaret Court won a majority of her 24 majors prior to the Open Era. Steffi’s 22 is the number that counts in terms of total Grand Slam singles titles. Serena can use that for motivation if the rest of the tour is not pushing her enough next year.