Wednesday’s Live Set Points #1, Wimbledon 2017 Day 3: Azarenka and Osaka progress to R3

Set PointsI was lucky enough to get the chance to go to Wimbledon on Wednesday. A big thanks to my brother who (somehow!) managed to buy a pair of tickets for Court 3. Every morning at 9am, a small batch of tickets get released online for Centre Court and No.3 Court on Ticketmaster. We both tried to get tickets – I was unsuccessful, but to the shock of both of us, he managed to get a pair and refreshed at just the right time!

The trains were a bit of a nightmare on our way to Wimbledon but the train guru, aka my brother, managed to get us there not much later than planned! As is the norm, we always walk from Wimbledon train station to the grounds and we were in within a flash as the gate entrance for Ticketmaster tickets was completely empty.

We were in at 10:30am and since no-one was practising on the outside courts at the south end of the grounds, we headed to the practice courts at the north end. We queued up for about 15 minutes – apart from seeing Kristina Mladenovic walk by, there were no WTA players! There’s also a double netting thing going on so pictures are almost impossible. Furthermore, they have now put up a roped barrier so you can’t even get close to the netting.

Sam Querrey was hitting with Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori were also warming up. I have to be honest and say that the set-up for watching practices is poor and is a far cry from the US Open, which is so, so good (see HERE). I’m hoping with the redevelopment of the Aorangi area that practices will become more open to the public because for now, it’s not worth queuing for.

We headed over to our seats on Court No.3 for the first match of the day between Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina. As we showed our tickets, row F, we were both stunned to find we were in the front row! These were some of the best seats we’ve ever had at Wimbledon and the view was fantastic. You could really take in the tennis to the minutest of details. Half of Tennis Twitter seemed to be in this court for Azarenka-Vesnina and I was really excited for the match!

Vesnina made a bright start with a clear gameplan to try and be aggressive and come forward. The Russian player had an early break point but could not convert at 1-1. After holds to 15 for both players, Vesnina encountered some resistance on her own serve. On her second break point of the game, Azarenka produced a dishy backhand winner to go up 4-2. Vesnina hit a few errors and her radar at the net was a little off. From there, it was kind of one-way traffic for Azarenka.

I felt that Vesnina lost sight of her gameplan and was just rallying with Azarenka from the baseline. Her drop shots were not entirely successful. The head-to-head began to shine through – Azarenka had won all seven previous encounters and had never even dropped a set. I didn’t feel that Azarenka was at her best, but she didn’t need to be as she sealed the early break in the second set.

Vesnina took a medical time-out midway through the set and Azarenka got one of the ballkids to feed her balls. It was really nice to see Azarenka so appreciative.

On the resumption, Azarenka held serve and then finally managed to break for the win in a five deuce game and on her third match point. Azarenka won, 6-3 6-3 in one hour and 39 minutes. Vesnina kept battling to the end, but just couldn’t find her game. Random note – we were sat next to Vesnina’s team and they left all their towels and water bottles at the end of the match, which I thought was odd.

I was expecting a nice handshake as I know Vika and Elena are friends and there was! Vika was beaming with happiness at the end. She went to quite a few sides of the court to sign autographs and take selfies with fans. She did have to say no to a few and implied she would do more outside of the court where there was a big crowd of people waiting for her.

Happy Vika!

Wednesday was a hot, hot day and we were melting through the first match on No.3 Court. We headed outside to see what was going on on the outside courts. One of my favourite things about Wimbledon is watching tennis around the grounds and the doubles started on Wednesday so there was plenty happening!

First up on Court 8 was Sloane Stephens and Chang Kai-Chen vs. Duan Ying-Ying and Liang Chen. It was lovely to see Sloane back in action after a year away from the tour due to a foot injury. From watching the end of the match, I didn’t sense either pair was going to make it too far in this doubles tournament, but it was Stephens and Chang who won, 6-3 3-6 6-4. There were plenty of fistpumps and come ons from Stephens and she looked happy with her first win back. Laughter was shared between the players at the net.

As you will know my preference is WTA, but I did stop for a few games to see Thanasi Kokkinakis in doubles action with Jordan Thompson. They looked good together and eventually pulled off a superb upset of the number nine seeds, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the wonderful scoreline of 7-6(4) 7-6(4) 7-6(4).

I also ticked off my first new name with photos – Natalia Vikhlyantseva! The Russian player teamed up with Evgeniya Rodina in doubles against Shuko Aoyama and Yang Zhaoxuan, who had very enthusiastic support. Vikhlyantseva didn’t look too comfortable and she was cursing herself after she left a ball that was in during the third set (see picture). Aoyama and Yang won in three sets, 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2.

My plan had been to take in some of Barbora Strycova vs. Naomi Osaka, my match of the day on the women’s side, over on Court 17 and we timed it well as this was just about to get underway. With an overpriced but much-needed Pimms in tow, we got front row seats in the corner nearest to Court No.1. Our first observation – where were all these flying ants coming from?! I later realised that this seemed to be a problem for many courts and it was quite irritating as they were everywhere! (see below). Barbora seemed to enquire with the umpire about it at the start but otherwise, the players did well to not get distracted.

After saving two break points in her first service game, Osaka was devastatingly good in the first set and rolled through it, 6-1. Her power and depth was just too much for Strycova to handle who just couldn’t get involved in the rallies. At the start of the second set, Osaka produced a few errors and Strycova was able to latch onto this and force her way into the match. The Czech player was able to lengthen the rallies, get to the net more, and was serving better too. Strycova won it, 6-0!

The first two sets were a classic case of neither player playing their best at the same time. The third set saw this equalise somewhat and it was a really entertaining scrap. I was a hot, sweaty mess, but it was totally worth it! Strycova had the momentum, leading 1-0* 30-0*. Osaka was getting really frustrated and the crowd (including me!) on her side of the court really rallied behind her for a time. The Japanese player is a delight to watch – her power, her hair and the squeals!

Osaka got her game going again and registered two consecutive love holds to level up at 3-3. Strycova did a better job than in the first set at mixing up the pace and height of her balls and injecting variety, but Osaka was surprisingly patient and able to find the killer punch in the longer rallies. Osaka broke at 4-3 and then managed to back it up to hold to 5-3, playing a superb point at *4-3 *30-30.

Serving to stay in the match, Strycova saved three match points in a six deuce game to hold. There was one incredible clutch drop shot that came out of the blue! There were five deuce games in the decider including the one where Osaka attempted to serve out the match. Credit to the Japanese player for staying on top of her game – she was pissed at one moment and shouted out “are you serious” when a ball from Strycova stopped on the line and some of her supporters (who were adjacent to Osaka at this point) made some noise. Osaka missed the shot wide.

Osaka missed another match point with a net cord going the way of Strycova but she sealed the win on her fifth with Strycova floored and her racquet flying off in the opposite direction. Osaka won, 6-1 0-6 6-4 in one hour and 49 minutes. There was an eternity between the end of the match and the handshake as Osaka patiently waited for Strycova, who gave her a smile and a respectful handshake.

I was so impressed with Osaka who won back-to-back matches for the first time since Stuttgart qualifying. Her game on grass could be sensational with time and I am SO excited about her next match – Venus Williams!

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