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Australian Open 2012: Andrew's TV-report of the final
AUSTRALIAN OPEN (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; outdoor hard (Plexicushion); Major)
Final TV-report: Sharapova v Azarenka (Saturday 28th January 2012)
- MARIA SHARAPOVA [4,EF] lt. VICTORIA AZARENKA [3,DF], 3-6 0-6
This was the only BBC-televised women’s tennis match between Wimbledon 2011 and Wimbledon 2012, and therefore the best.
It had certainly promised to be a mouth-watering match: between Maria, who is my favourite active player, and Azarenka, who is one of my top-five favourites outside my Eternal Fanship. Azarenka has much in common with Maria in the way she plays, looks, and grunts.
Maria, by reaching the final, greatly exceeded the expectations that I had of her going into this Australian Open. On 29th September 2011, she retired from Tokyo with a left-ankle injury, and on 26th October 2011, she withdrew from the WTA Championships after losing her first two round-robin matches. When she pulled out of Brisbane with the same injury, her Australian Open prospects had looked very bleak. But to beat Petra Kvitová in the semi-finals, having lost to her in the Wimbledon final, was hugely significant.
The first set was an intense battle. Azarenka was a bundle of nerves to begin with, as she served two double faults in the first game of the match, and a third to go down 0:0 *0-2 0/30.
But from that point onwards, Azarenka suddenly and completely transformed herself. Maria’s game dropped a level, but to be honest, she wasn’t allowed to play well. They both hit 14 winners, but Maria officially made 30 unforced errors to Azarenka’s 12.
Maria, having gone from 0:0 2-0* to *2-3, came through a tough service-game of two deuces to hold for 3-3*. Azarenka held for 4-3* by winning the best rally of the match with a backhand lob-winner over Maria at the net.
They were playing at a very high level of intensity at that point, and a very high level of grunting. I’m very pro-grunting (I started watching tennis as a fan of Monica Seles), and dismayed by the suggestions that it should be eliminated from the women’s game.
Maria at 0:0 *3-4 had three game-points (including 40/15), but was broken after three deuces when Azarenka hit a fabulous crosscourt backhand volley-winner running backwards. Azarenka at *5-3 duly served out the first set to 15, and things went from bad to worse for Maria in the second.
Nothing worked for Maria in the second set. Plan A wasn’t cutting it against an on-form Azarenka, whose defences were too strong for Maria to hit through. Maria’s occasional attempts to vary the pace or go to the net didn’t work. She wasn’t dominating with her serve, either, against one of the best returners in women’s tennis.
The biggest difference was in the movement of the two players (some of which was due to Azarenka’s superior anticipation). Plexicushion is a great surface for Maria (as we saw when she annihilated the competition in 2008), but the court wasn’t playing fast enough for her to hit through Azarenka, and yet Maria wasn’t fast enough to recover when Azarenka pushed her into the tramlines and then went for the open court (prime examples 1:0 *3-0 40/30 and 4-0* 15/15).
BBC commentator John Lloyd: “There was nothing really that Sharapova could do to get Azarenka off the court. Azarenka got enough balls back, and got the balls back into awkward positions. Sharapova wins the majority of her points in the first two or three strikes, and Azarenka didn’t let her do that. In the end, Sharapova had to keep going for way too much – that was the only way she was going to win this match, and the percentages didn’t stack in her favour.”
Azarenka served for her first Major title and the WTA’s #1 ranking at 1:0 *5-0. It looked like nerves might be getting the better of her when she left a huge gap to her left at 15/0, allowing Maria to hit a pinpoint forehand winner down the line. A turnaround seemed possible when Azarenka hit a tentative second serve and Maria a down-the-line backhand winner for 30/15*. It looked like providence was on Maria’s side when a dead netcord winner gave her a break-back point at 40/30*. But she squandered it by netting a cheap backhand, and Azarenka dominated the last two points to secure her victory, forcing Maria to net another backhand at championship-point.
Maria, like Azarenka, would have risen to #1 on Monday had she won the final. As it is, she will rise one place to #3 behind Kvitová, with outgoing world #1 Caroline Woźniacki falling to #4.
BBC presenter John Inverdale admitted that the women’s game was “in a very healthy state now after suffering a lull”, and John Lloyd agreed with him.
SHARAPOV @*___*___ 3
AZARENKA __*@*_*@* 6
The match was third on the Rod Laver Arena. Both girls were very colourfully attired: Maria was wearing a luminous green visor with luminous green shoulder-straps on her white dress and luminous green shoelaces to match; Azarenka attempted to outdo her with a luminous yellow headband, blue shirt with white stripes down the sides, and came on court wearing a yellow hoodie, but lost the fashion-battle by wearing shorts.
Maria apparently won the toss and elected to receive, and the match started at 19:42 AEDT.
BBC commentator Andrew Castle: “We’re going to see nerves on display, and tremendous shotmaking.”
Azarenka serving 0-0: Azarenka netted a backhand on the third stroke. 0/15. Maria sprayed a forehand very long. 15/15. Double fault #1 (wild second serve very long). 15/30. Azarenka’s depth induced Maria to mishit an early forehand long. 30/30. Double fault #2 (second serve long). 30/40 (BP #1). Deep, firm second serve + crosscourt forehand deep into the corner for a virtual winner. Deuce #1. Maria hit a deep forehand just inside the baseline, forcing Azarenka to bunt a down-the-line forehand into the tramlines. Ad Sharapova (BP #2). Azarenka, on the third stroke, hit a down-the-line backhand long and wide. Broken.
BBC Two are televising this at such a low volume that I’ve just had to turn my TV-volume up from my usual 35% to 45%.
Sharapova serving 1-0: Maria’s depth induced Azarenka to spray a wild crosscourt backhand wide. 15/0. Maria hit an off-forehand deep into the corner, forcing Azarenka to bunt a one-handed down-the-line backhand into the tramlines. 30/0. Kick second serve drew a return that sat up nicely for Maria to nail a deep forehand down the line, forcing Azarenka to hit a defensive one-handed backhand lob that landed by the umpire’s chair. 40/0 (GP #1). Double fault #1 (second serve into the top of the net). 40/15 (GP #2). Maria’s forehand was called long, but she successfully challenged: Hawk-Eye showed that it caught about 30% of the breadth of the baseline. So they replayed the point, which Maria won with a first serve out wide + off-forehand winner. Held.
Thomas Högstedt is still coaching Maria. Samuel Sumyk is still coaching Azarenka; his wife, former WTA player Meilen Tu, was also in Azarenka’s box.
Azarenka serving 0-2: Maria pounced on a short ball to hit a thunderous off-forehand winner just inside the sideline. 0/15. Double fault #3 (second serve long by a whisker). 0/30. Azarenka hit a deep crosscourt forehand onto the sideline, forcing Maria to bunt a forehand long. 15/30. Deep first serve on the service-line induced Maria to hit a backhand return just long. 30/30. Second serve: Maria hit an off-forehand return into the tramlines. 40/30 (GP #1). Azarenka forced a floater, and hit a pinpoint forehand winner down the line. Held.
At 0/30 there, the BBC commentators were talking about the previous time that a Belarusian reached a Major singles-final: Natasha Zvereva lost the French Open 1988 final 6-0 6-0.
Sharapova serving 2-1: Azarenka won her fifth point in a row with a deep forehand that induced Maria to bunt a forehand long. 0/15. Azarenka opened up the court and hit an off-backhand winner. 0/30. Azarenka’s depth induced Maria to net a backhand. 0/40 (BP #1). Azarenka’s deep return forced Maria to hit a backhand just long; Maria wasted a challenge. Broken.
Azarenka serving 2-2: Maria, on the fourth stroke, dumped a horrendous backhand into the net, bringing back memories of her fourth-round loss to Andrea Petkovic here last year. 15/0. Azarenka hit a crosscourt backhand drive-volley winner. 30/0. First serve down the middle: Maria hit a brilliant backhand return-winner down Azarenka’s backhand sideline. 30/15. Body-jamming first serve induced Maria to mishit a forehand return halfway up the net. 40/15 (GP #1). Deep first serve down the middle forced Maria to net a backhand return. Azarenka pumped her fist and said “c’mon”. Held.
Sharapova serving 2-3: Maria’s deep off-forehand forced Azarenka to bunt an early backhand long. 15/0. Azarenka’s depth induced Maria to hit a backhand long. 15/15. Azarenka’s hard off-forehand induced Maria to net a backhand. 15/30. First serve: Azarenka’s forehand return appeared to land on the baseline, but was called long. 30/30. Deep 103mph first serve out wide forced Azarenka to earth a forehand return. 40/30 (GP #1). Azarenka hit a deep crosscourt backhand; Maria hit a defensive crosscourt backhand just long. Deuce #1. Maria got away with exposing her left side of the court as Azarenka netted a very makeable down-the-line forehand. Ad Sharapova (GP #2). Azarenka’s depth induced Maria to hit an off-forehand wide. Deuce #2. Sharp-angled first serve out wide induced Azarenka to bunt a forehand return long. Azarenka told the umpire that it was a let, but the umpire said she didn’t hear it. Ad Sharapova (GP #3). Ace #1: first serve down the middle, on the service-line. Held.
A vital game for Maria to reestablish her momentum. It would have been disastrous if she’d gone from 2-0* to 2-4*.
Azarenka serving 3-3: Azarenka’s deep forehand induced Maria to hit a backhand long. 15/0. Maria tried to mix up the pace with a slow, short-angled crosscourt backhand, but it didn’t work: Azarenka hit a short-angled crosscourt backhand just inside the sideline, forcing Maria to hit a defensive backhand very long. 30/0. Maria forced a floater, and dispatched it with an off-forehand drive-volley winner. 30/15. Azarenka hit a forehand long. 30/30. Body-jamming first serve induced Maria to net a forehand return. 40/30 (GP #1). A great rally culminated with Azarenka drawing Maria to the net with a crosscourt backhand dropshot; Maria hit a crosscourt backhand dropshot right back to Azarenka, who hit a crosscourt backhand lob-winner over Maria’s head. Held.
Sharapova serving 3-4 (new balls): Deep first serve forced Azarenka to earth a backhand return – a virtual ace. 15/0. Double fault #2 (big, flat second serve just long). 15/15. Azarenka appeared to take the initiative with an off-backhand just inside the sideline, but Maria replied with a pinpoint crosscourt forehand onto the sideline, forcing Azarenka into the tramlines to hit a rather weak forehand down the line; Maria, running to her left, nailed a down-the-line backhand winner back behind Azarenka. 30/15. First serve down the middle forced Azarenka to stretch wide and bunt a forehand return long. 40/15 (GP #1). Azarenka’s deep forehand forced Maria to bunt a backhand long. 40/30 (GP #2). Double fault #3 (kick second serve wide of the sideline). Deuce #1. Maria wasted a challenge after her first serve was called long. Second serve... Azarenka hit a deep backhand just inside the baseline, forcing Maria to net a forehand. Azarenka pumped her fist and said “c’mon”. Ad Azarenka (BP #1). Maria hit a short-angled crosscourt forehand just inside the sideline, forcing Azarenka to stretch wide and earth a forehand. Deuce #2. Azarenka netted a forehand. Ad Sharapova (GP #3). Azarenka went to the net and hit an off-forehand punch-volley winner back behind Maria. Deuce #3. Azarenka hit an off-forehand drive-volley winner back behind Maria. Ad Azarenka (BP #2). A short ball from Maria allowed Azarenka to take the initiative with a deep forehand down the line, forcing Maria to hit a short, defensive backhand; Azarenka hit a backhand dropshot; Maria ran it down and pushed a forehand down the line; Azarenka, running backwards, hit a fabulous crosscourt backhand volley-winner into the wide-open court. Broken.
Azarenka serving 5-3: Maria hit a down-the-line forehand would-be winner just wide. 15/0. Maria’s depth induced Azarenka to bunt a forehand long. 30/0. Maria hit a scorching crosscourt backhand winner just inside the sideline. 30/15. First serve down the middle forced a mid-court return; Azarenka hit an acute-angled crosscourt backhand just inside the sideline, forcing Maria to stretch wide and bunt a left-handed forehand that clipped the net-post and fell wide. 40/15 (SP #1). Azarenka hit a second serve onto the service-line, inducing Maria to slap a forehand return into the net. Azarenka won the first set 6-3 at 20:29 AEDT (46m).
John Lloyd: “Azarenka is soaking up the pressure; she’s counterpunching brilliantly, and getting Sharapova on the move. Even though Sharapova’s mind is incredible and she’s not going to obviously back away, it’s difficult right now to see how Sharapova’s going to get back into this match, because she doesn’t seem to be able to find a way to get Azarenka off the court. The movement from Azarenka is brilliant.”
SHARAPOV ______ 0
AZARENKA @*@*@* 6
Sharapova serving 0-0: Azarenka’s deep return induced Maria to hit a backhand long. 0/15. Azarenka hit a wild down-the-line backhand long. 15/15. Maria tried to drive-volley Azarenka’s defensive lob from no-man’s-land, and mishit it into the net. 15/30. Maria hit a makeable backhand long. 15/40 (BP #1). Maria went to the net, but left a huge gap to her right, giving Azarenka an easy crosscourt forehand pass-winner. Broken.
Azarenka serving 1-0: Double fault #4 (second serve was called long by the umpire; Azarenka used up a challenge to show that it was long by about 20% of the breadth of the service-line). 0/15. Azarenka forced a short ball, but ran through it and netted a backhand. 0/30. Maria netted a cheap forehand on the fourth stroke. 15/30. Azarenka’s deep crosscourt forehand forced a very short ball, which she dispatched with an easy off-forehand winner. 30/30. Body-jamming first serve out wide: Maria sidestepped to her right and hit a pinpoint backhand return down – and just inside – Azarenka’s backhand sideline. Maria pumped her fist and shouted “c’mon”. 30/40 (BP #1). Maria had the early initiative, but Azarenka took control of the rally; her crosscourt backhand pushed Maria outside the sideline, inducing her to net a backhand. Deuce #1. Maria hit a desperate down-the-line backhand into the tramlines. Ad Azarenka (GP #1). It’s a shame that Azarenka’s first serve was long, as Maria hit a pinpoint crosscourt backhand return-winner deep into the corner. Second serve... a longish baseline-rally ended when Maria’s forehand clipped the netcord and fell back on her side. Held.
Sharapova serving 0-2: Maria went to the net, but let a dipping ball bounce and hit a forehand just long. 0/15. Maria hit a crosscourt forehand deep into the corner, forcing Azarenka to bunt a down-the-line forehand lob into the tramlines. 15/15. Azarenka forced a short floater, and dispatched it with an off-forehand winner. 15/30. Maria, driven wide, slapped a wild backhand into the net – “defensive” just doesn’t seem to be a word in her vocabulary. 15/40 (BP #1). Maria hit a crosscourt backhand just wide. Broken.
Azarenka serving 3-0: Maria went to the net, and Azarenka hit a backhand lob just long. 0/15. Maria hit an off-backhand wide. 15/15. First serve out wide drove Maria outside the tramlines: she blasted an acute crosscourt forehand return wide. 30/15. First serve out wide forced Maria to hit a backhand return long. 40/15 (GP #1). First serve out wide: Maria hit a brilliant crosscourt forehand return-winner onto the sideline and a couple of inches from the baseline. 40/30 (GP #2). Azarenka played a good spreading rally, pushing Maria wide with an off-forehand to the sideline, then hitting a low-bouncing backhand down the line, forcing Maria to run right, stretch low and net a forehand. Held.
Sharapova serving 0-4: Maria spread Azarenka with an off-backhand + crosscourt backhand, tried to go back behind Azarenka with an off-forehand, but netted it horribly. 15/0. Maria hit a crosscourt forehand onto the sideline, but it was called wide. Maria made a successful challenge: Hawk-Eye showed that it caught about 25% of the breadth of the sideline. So they replayed the point: Maria forced a short ball, and went back behind Azarenka with an extremely risky down-the-line backhand onto the baseline. 15/15. Azarenka’s backhand return clipped the baseline but was called long. Azarenka made a successful challenge: Hawk-Eye showed that it caught about 15% of the breadth of the baseline. So they replayed the point (Azarenka argued that she should have been awarded the point – and indeed she should, as the call had come after Maria had hit an off-forehand that clipped the netcord and fell wide). Azarenka spread Maria with an off-backhand return + crosscourt backhand near the sideline + crosscourt forehand winner. 15/30. Maria netted a forehand. 15/40 (BP #1). Deep first serve out wide forced Azarenka to hit a crosscourt forehand return wide. 30/40 (BP #2). Maria hit a forehand just long, and looked embarrassed as she walked to her chair. Broken.
Azarenka serving 5-0: First serve down the middle + pinpoint forehand down the line forced Maria to earth a backhand lob. 15/0. Azarenka left a huge gap to her left, and Maria exploited it with a pinpoint forehand winner down the line. 15/15. Azarenka caught her second-serve toss... short second serve... Maria dominated the rally and hit an off-backhand winner down the line. 15/30. First serve out wide + crosscourt backhand winner back behind Maria. 30/30. Maria’s forehand clipped the netcord and dropped dead for a winner. 30/40 (BP #1). Maria dumped a very makeable backhand into the net. Deuce #1. First serve out wide + forehand winner down the line. Ad Azarenka (CP #1). Maria, driven wide, dumped a backhand into the net near the bottom. Azarenka won 6-3 6-0 at 21:04 AEDT (second set 35m, match 1h22m).
Martina Hingis, who won the Australian Open as a teenager in 1997, 1998 and 1999, presented the trophies, looking very fetching in a white dress and sparkly shoes.
“Thank you. First of all, the first congratulation goes to Victoria. It is an honour to play against you. You’ve earned the title. You’ve worked so hard for it over the years. It’s a real honour to have your name on that trophy. Congratulations, and cherish it for as long as you can.
“As in any sport, you have your good days, you have your tough days, and you have days where just things don’t work out. Today, Victoria was better on so many levels, and just played too good. As an athlete, to be at this stage – it all comes down to the last two athletes, and [the] winner takes it all, out of all the players that are in the draw. To stand here after so many years – it’s a few years since I’ve been back on this stage – I’ve had great moments here; I’ve had tough losses, and this was another one. But there’s no doubt that I will be back and performing in front of all you guys; it means so much to me.
“Melbourne has been my home away from home for the last month, and I couldn’t have asked for a better home for a month. Many thanks to my team: my coach Thomas [Högstedt], Vladimir [Voltchkov], Max [Eisenbud] and Juan [Reque]; my mother and my father, who always believed in me, no matter if I play tennis or went to school or whatever I did; my fiancé – I can’t wait to see you soon; and all my friends that support me from over the years – I love you; we’re gonna have so many great moments. And, of course, everyone that makes this even happen: all the sponsors and Kia, and anyone I forgot; all the volunteers, drivers, ballkids, umpires. All of you: thank you so much, and I can’t wait to be back.”
“Well... <she paused and giggled>. First, I want to congratulate Maria and thank you for such a kind words [sic]. It’s been a great two weeks, you did really well, and I’m sure we’re gonna have many more finals. I wish you good luck for the rest of the year.
“I would like to thank my team. Sam [Sumyk], J.P. [Jean-Pierre Bruyère], Meilen [Tu], Susan [?] and John [Tobias]. You guys [have] been supporting me for so long and believing in me. It made me realise that I can believe in myself, and... I can finally raise this trophy.
“I wanna thank my parents, who are watching for sure now; my friends; my boyfriend; and my grandmother: the person who inspires me the most in my life. Babushka, ja tebja ljublju [Grandmother, I love you].
“Of course, I would like to thank all the sponsors, Kia, ANZ, for making such an amazing event. I’ve been loving to come back since I was a junior, and I can’t wait to be back next year. I had an amazing month in Australia, and it’s a dream come true. Thank you so much.
“And, of course, all the volunteers, all the drivers. I hope you guys enjoyed my doughnuts. I’ve been feeding you forever these two weeks. I know you gained weight, but I know it makes you smile every time. All the ladies in the locker-room, the physios, the ballkids, the linesmen. I know we’re hard on you sometimes, but without you, we wouldn’t be playing out here. Thank you so much.
“Of course, for the crowd. Every time I step on this court – yeah, there you go, come on! <the crowd cheered loudly>
“Thank you so much. You’ve been an inspiration, and I can’t wait to be back. Thanks again.”
Dr. Andrew Broad