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joyful rogger fedder

Friday, June 26, 2009

Azarenka has edge over young rival

Photo Titled Azarenka swing
Azarenka swing
The Centre Court had an intriguing glimpse into the future today when Victoria Azarenka faced Sorana Cirstea for a place in the third round.

These two 19-year-olds may have been new faces to many at Wimbledon but to each other they are very familiar, having jousted many times on their way through the junior rankings. But Azarenka’s six months’ seniority counts for a lot at this level and after a tight first set her extra experience showed as she won 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.

Azarenka and Cirstea are joined by another fact – each produced the best Grand Slam performance of their careers at Roland Garros this month by making the quarter-finals. And at senior level these two have a habit already of meeting in Slams. At Roland Garros last year Belarusian Azarenka achieved the dreaded “double bagel” (6-0, 6-0) over Cirstea and one month later at Wimbledon, the Romanian managed just four games in defeat.

This first meeting of 2009 was very different. No quarter was given in the first set, and it was clearly about who would blink first. Azarenka’s first serve was formidable. Break points were few and shared almost evenly, but both players held their games together and it stayed on serve.

But what emerged clearly – as always when Azarenka is on court – is her signature combative nature. Not only did she routinely rebuke herself, making no attempt to disguise any thought going through her mind, but she hit the ball with every stroke as if she wished to blow it to smithereens.

For as long as Cirstea kept returning it, which she did, Azarenka’s frustration grew – and with it her trademark shriek, which reduces Maria Sharapova’s grunt to a murmur by comparison.

As often happens, the crowd soon tired of it and began overtly to support her opponent. Azarenka has not only seen all this before but tends actively to thrive on it. If a crowd dislikes her, she can seem to abhor them right back.

Certainly by the time they reached the tiebreak there was no doubting who the Centre Court crowd favoured. But that was just the moment when a couple of Cirstea errors tipped the balance Azarenka’s way, and then the Belarusian brought up four set points with a fabulous crosscourt passing shot. A hammer volley snatched the set.

In the second set Cirstea had a chance to break in the first game but it went away from her. Thereafter Azarenka’s relentless baseline superiority began to emerge more clearly.

She broke at the first opportunity and stretched away to win, greeted by what can only be described as tepid applause from the crowd. It was the first time the Centre Court had witnessed a match between these two, but it will surely not be the last.

Azarenka will face Nadia Petrova on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals.

Centre Court - Ladies' Singles - 3rd Round
Victoria Azarenka BLR (8)Winner776
Sorana Cirstea ROU (28)623

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