Serena powers past Azarenka


Serena Williams powered into the last 16 of the US Open on Saturday, reinforcing her status as favourite to cement her return from life-threating health troubles with a 14th Grand Slam title. Williams swept to a 5-0 lead over fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka in just 17 minutes en route to a 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) triumph. The victory kept her on a path toward a fourth US Open title, but the 29-year-old American said she plays now with a new perspective on the game. “I love playing tennis, I love the battle,” she said. “But I realize that life is so precious and things could be a lot worse.
“It isn’t all about tennis. It’s about life,” added Williams, who was off the tour for 11 months after health woes that included surgery on a cut foot and treatment for dangerous blood clots in her lungs. Williams simply overwhelmed Azarenka in the opening set. Things got tougher in the second, when Williams couldn’t convert four match points, but eventually her tally of 39 winners — including a dozen aces — made the difference. Williams was disappointed that her success rate on her serve dropped off in the second set but said: “I can build on it.” Azarenka, reckoned to be the top seed who drew the short straw when she was put on a collision course with Williams so early in the tournament, dug in to display the form that saw her lift titles in Miami and Marbella and reach the Wimbledon semi-finals this year.
She saved two break points to hold serve to open the second set, and gave Williams her first real challenge of the tournament. Even after Azarenka raised her game, however, her chances on Williams’ serve were few. When she netted a backhand on a break point for 3-1 Azarenka let out an agonized “No!” From there it was Williams who gained the edge and she looked poised to end it when she took an 0-40 lead on Azarenka’s serve in the ninth game, but the Belarussian saved all three match points. Serving for the match, Williams gave herself another chance with a forehand passing shot.
On the next point, however, her sliding reach for a forehand ended with Williams doing the splits and Azarenka went on to get the break and push the set to the tiebreaker. Azarenka said she “definitely” believed Williams was the woman to beat, and despite her disappointment she welcomed her opponent’s resurgence. After a modest return to competition in June, Williams has won two tournaments leading into the Open. “It shows that she’s a very strong person,” Azarenka said. Both players were just sorry that the match came so early in the tournament. “I think the whole match was a semi-final,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, it was a third round. I’m only in the round of 16 now.” Azarenka wouldn’t whine about the mis-chance of her draw. “If I want to be good, if I want to be a champion, I have to beat the best players.”