Victoria Azarenka has laid down the gauntlet in 2016, winning the Brisbane International, her first title since 2013 in Cincinnati. Azarenka defeated Angelique Kerber, 6-3 6-1 in 73 minutes; in fact the Belarusian dropped just 17 games throughout the whole tournament in what was a dominant sweep through the draw. After their last match at the US Open, the Kerber-Azarenka Brisbane finale was hotly anticipated… And at the beginning, it delivered. Both players were producing high quality tennis; there were backhand winners galore with the pair combining for 29 winners compared to 16 unforced errors in the first set. Kerber started the better and there was a different feel about the way she was playing. Looking to be aggressive, she had slight control early on but Azarenka stayed in touch.
The pair exchanged three consecutive breaks before Azarenka consolidated her serve on one of the best rallies of the match to lead 5-3. Kerber seemed to lose a little heart from then. Once again, she’d been playing some great tennis against Azarenka, but the Belarusian was still drawing ahead in the scoreline. Kerber played a disappointing final game, serving up a double fault to gift Azarenka the opening set.
Kerber needed a fast start in the second set to halt the Azarenka momentum train but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Kerber had four game points (including three break points on the Azarenka serve) in the first two games, but Azarenka won both of them. The Belarusian won the majority of the key points. Her backhand was potent and once again, her willingness to come forward and close points at the net was a key factor in this match-up… some of her volleys were delightful. The match went away from Kerber very fast at the end as she committed a stream of unforced errors. Azarenka finished with stats of 23 winners to 9 (!) unforced errors, while Kerber produced 25 winners to 27 unforced errors.
This sets up Azarenka perfectly not just for the Australian Open, but also for the entire year. A healthy, fit and in-form Vika is such an asset to the WTA tour and she makes tennis so much more interesting. I’m excited for her prospects at the AO where she’s bagged a top 16 seed. Kerber still had a great week, but I imagine she will definitely want some more matches in Sydney (as she has made clear in her press conferences) where she plays Elina Svitolina in the first round.
Congrats to Vika!