What a week for Samantha Crawford… The 20-year-old American, currently ranked at number 142 in the world, has well and truly put herself on the map with a tremendous breakthrough week at the Brisbane International. Crawford came through three rounds of qualifying, knocking out the number one seed, Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round, followed by wins over Kimberly Birrell and Oceane Dodin. After defeating the Aussie wildcard, Priscilla Hon, in the first round of the main draw, Crawford enjoyed back-to-back straight set wins over Belinda Bencic and Andrea Petkovic. It is worth noting that before 2016 Crawford had only beaten a top 100 player on one occasion against Evgeniya Rodina (then #89) in Quebec City.
Crawford’s 6-3 6-0 victory over Petkovic was surprisingly routine; the German player put up little resistance in the second set as she appeared to be somewhat overwhelmed by the power and depth of Crawford’s groundstrokes. There was no wobble at the end with Crawford seemingly unphased, racing across the finish line. While she made plenty of unforced errors, she more than made up for it with winners; Crawford finished with stats of 22 winners to 22 unforced errors.
Crawford now gets a shot at Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals; on Thursday, Azarenka defeated the number eight seed, Roberta Vinci, 6-1 6-2, in 78 minutes. Vinci had been in superb form, defeating Jelena Jankovic and Dominika Cibulkova in the first two rounds, but came up against a roadblock in the form of Azarenka. The Belarusian peppered Vinci’s backhand, which was nowhere near as potent as it had been earlier this week.
After a straightforward opening set for Azarenka in which Vinci failed to hold serve, the Belarusian encountered some early resistance in the second set. Vinci converted on a sixth break point in a ten minute plus game to go up *2-1; however, Azarenka promptly responded with a break to love and never looked back from there, winning the final four games to seal the win. The pair finished with the same number of unforced errors (23), but Azarenka hit 12 more winners (22 to 10).
Head-to-head record: Unsurprisingly, Crawford and Azarenka have never played each other before on the WTA tour.
Analysis: This has been a fantastic week for Crawford who is obviously brimming with confidence. Her game is such that when it is on, it is really on. Azarenka herself has been playing well, raising her level against Vinci as the calibre of opponent improved. Azarenka admitted to feeling “overwhelmed” playing Ysaline Bonaventure in the second round, and the same could be the case against Crawford, a player she will likely know little about. The American player is in uncharted territory, reaching her first WTA tour semi-final, and will no doubt relish the opportunity. While she has upset some great players this week, I believe the quality of a highly motivated Azarenka will shine through…
Prediction: Azarenka d. Crawford in 2 sets