The first week of the 2016 tennis season has been especially chaotic with a flood of withdrawals and the top three seeds in Brisbane, Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza and Maria Sharapova, all pulling out with injury. However, the week will end with what promises to be a FASCINATING finale to the 2016 Brisbane International between Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber. This is the first time in 2016 I have felt a real buzz and anticipation about a match and also, it will be one of the first that i’ll get to watch relaxed (hallelujah for the weekend). Kerber and Azarenka have played out some superb encounters; most recently, the magnificent third round clash at the US Open, which was my favourite WTA match of 2015.
Kerber was first into the Brisbane final with another excellent display, defeating Carla Suárez Navarro, 6-2 6-3, in 75 minutes. Kerber didn’t drop her serve, saving two break points midway through the second set. Kerber’s groundstrokes looked sharp and she was so quick onto every ball. Physically, she looks great. Suárez Navarro looked a little flat and this may have had something to do with her long quarter-final match against Varvara Lepchenko which took over two hours and 40 minutes. Still, Kerber was good value for the win.
Azarenka continued her breeze through the draw with another dominant victory; in the semi-finals, she defeated Samantha Crawford, 6-0 6-3 in just 68 minutes. Crawford, sporting strapping on her left thigh, was erratic in the first set, hitting 2 winners to 14 unforced errors. The American player improved in the second set, managing to break Azarenka’s serve twice during the second set, including when she served for the match. Crawford once again showed the power she possesses with her groundstrokes but didn’t quite have the consistency on this occasion. Azarenka broke Crawford’s serve seven times and finished with 10 winners to just 6 unforced errors.
Draw paths: Azarenka has yet to drop a set with straight set wins over Elena Vesnina (6-2 6-0), Ysaline Bonaventure (6-3 6-2), Roberta Vinci (6-1 6-2) and Crawford (6-0 6-3). Kerber lost a set in her first match against Camila Giorgi (5-7 6-3 6-0) but since then it has been plain sailing with wins over Madison Brengle (6-3 6-0), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (6-4 6-4) and Suárez Navarro (6-2 6-3). It’s also worth noting that Kerber has reached the doubles final with Andrea Petkovic.
Head-to-head record: The pair have played some cracking matches as already alluded to above; in 2012, Azarenka edged Kerber, 6-4 7-5 at the Olympics, in one of the highest quality straight set matches i’ve seen on the WTA for years. In the same year, Azarenka won a terrific tussle at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, 6-7(11) 7-6(2) 6-4. Their best match came at the US Open where Kerber laid everything out on the court but Azarenka’s quality shone through in a 7-5 2-6 6-4 victory.
Interesting stat: These are the two players I had at #11 and #12 in my WTA predictions for 2016! Early days but perhaps they should have been higher 😉
Analysis: This could be an absolute cracker… I think both players lend themselves to entertaining matches, particularly Kerber, who always features in the best match countdowns with her ability to hit winners as well as retrieve superbly well. There’s no getting away from the head-to-head with Kerber yet to beat Azarenka. In the German player’s favour, she has been very successful in finals of late, winning four of her last five title matches. Azarenka’s last WTA title came all the way back in 2013 in Cincy when she defeated Serena Williams. If Azarenka does get into a winning position, it’s likely she will feel some nerves having been away from these moments for well over two years. Vika may have the edge with her ability to be aggressive and move up the court. However, Kerber has looked very proactive so far this week. I’m on the fence with this one and really hopeful of a stunning final…
Prediction: Azarenka d. Kerber in 3 sets