Karen Helf reports about the women's singles final straight from the Miami Open grounds.
In the afternoon heat, 87 degrees and 60% humidity, Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova took center stage. The location: Key Biscayne, Florida. To give context on weather conditions, sitting still in the shade, I was melting. Player rankings were a bit lopsided with Victoria at No. 8, and Svetlana at No. 19. However, Victoria is quick to point out that Svetlana is also Grand Slam champion and always a threat. The Crandon Park public tennis facility was near capacity, as both women already have Miami Open titles in their résumés.
The Miami title aside, both players had pressures to perform. Svetlana, who turned pro in 2000, is perhaps at 30 nearing the end of her career. Another title would help solidify her legacy. Victoria is back on her game post injury, with the goal of attaining the No. 1 ranking. In Miami pressers she made that point clear. She feels she is potentially No. 1 now in terms of her game, her physical condition and mentality. Her move from No. 22 at the start of the year to now No. 8 lends supports to her belief. A Miami win would only underscore that.
First set highlights – Breaker breaker
Vika took the first break going up 2-0. However, her serve would fail her in successive games, allowing Svetlana back into the set. With nine services played in the set, there was only one hold by Victoria. That was her first service game. Service game stats for both players were at 40%. Vika served five double-faults. At 5-2, 15-40 Vika produced a devastating double-fault, giving Kuznetsova the break.
The score now at 5-3. Back on serve, could Svetlana capitalize on Vika’s errors? The short answer, "no". Despite Svetlana serving well in the first set, with a 75% first serve percentage, Vika earned a break opportunity, placing the ball short. Svetlana scrambled, arriving a split second late, point Azarenka 30-40. Svetlana would go on to hit a forehand wide, break and set to Vika, 6-3.
Second set highlights – Raising the level enough to win
The second set held similarities to the first set, with Svetlana hitting deep, hard balls and Victoria returning reasonably well. She set-up opportunities to come forward, hitting primarily cross-court winners. Victoria elevated her play a bit with improved serving and winning 64% of the points compared to 56% in the first set. Final score, 6-2.
While neither player realized their best tennis on Saturday, the match was an example of preserving when errors creep into the game. While champions most often win by executing flawlessly, top players acknowledge that finding a way to win when your skills are not in line with your ranking is crucial. Today both players worked hard to stay positive and not allow mistakes to drag them down.
Press conferences were not dominated by conversations of regret, but rather an optimism of coming thru difficult moments. They acknowledged missed opportunities, but also the criticality of a strong mentality, perhaps the most important on-court skill.
With this March sweep, Victoria’s ranking will soar again. Vika’s timing is perfect, peaking at the right moment for the start of clay. Securing a Top 4 ranking for the next slam in May, Roland Garros will be advantageous. That position would help her avoid the Top 3 players until later rounds.
Follow Vika and the rest of the WTA tour in early April. The ladies will light up the map in Katowice, Poland, Bogota Columbia, and in the United States, Charleston, South Carolina.