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Serena moves past Azarenka in Indian Wells classic

Andrew Hendrie in WTA Tour 9 Mar 2019
  • Serena defeated Azarenka 7-5 6-3
  • The scoreline doesn't do justice to how close the match was
Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka after the match (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Serena Williams defeated Victoria Azarenka in one of the highest-quality straight sets matches you’ll ever see in a spectacular BNP Paribas Open second round showdown at Indian Wells on Friday night.

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It was only fitting that Serena and Azarenka - playing their first match against each other as mothers - put together a classic encounter on International Women’s Day in the Californian desert, with the American coming away with a memorable win by a 7-5 6-3 scoreline.

In what will surely be a contender for match of the year when all is said and done for 2019, Serena edged out her fellow two-time Indian Wells champion in a bruising and energy-sapping contest, extending her head-to-head lead over Azarenka to 18-4 after two hours and six minutes of intense and relentless baseline exchanges.

“I truly love her, she’s a really good friend,” Serena said of Azarenka after the match. “She’s a fellow mom and she’s a former No. 1 just like me. It’s hard to play someone you’re so close with but it’s also really invigorating and cool.”
“I didn’t expect to play like this tonight. It was crazy.”

Azarenka had the positive winners to unforced errors ratio with 25/24 (compared to Serena’s 39/45), but it was Serena who came out on top in the crucial points, converting six of her 12 break point opportunities, while the Belarusian was only able to take four out of her 15 chances.

Serena Williams celebrates (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
It doesn’t get any easier for Serena - the 23-time major champion will next go on to face another two-time Grand Slam winner when she meets Garbine Muguruza in the third round.

Serena and Azarenka went blow for blow in an extraordinary opening set, with neither player backing down in bludgeoning baseline exchanges. After four consecutive breaks, Serena managed to save two break points at 3-3 with a pair of backhand winners to move ahead, and after another backhand winner crosscourt in the next game, she broke Azarenka and had the chance to serve for the first set.

However, Azarenka refused to surrender without a fight, and on the back of some miraculous defence and some menacing groundstrokes of her own, she was able to recover from 0-30 down on Serena’s serve to break straight back before holding to love to level the score at 5-5. Azarenka kept her foot on the pedal and was on the brink of a second consecutive break as she held four break points, but Serena’s forehand bailed her out of trouble this time as she edged ahead 6-5. It looked like the set was going to be, perhaps fittingly, decided by a tiebreak, but Serena exploded with successive jaw-dropping backhand return winners from 30-30 to break Azarenka and secure the set after 72 minutes.

The pair traded early breaks at the start of the second set, and after Serena held for 2-1, it was the ninth time out of the 15 games played that the score had gone to deuce, illustrating just how close the match was. Games then went on serve until Serena raised her level in the eighth game and claimed the all-important break after Azarenka fired a backhand into the net. The two-time Australian Open champion once again refused to go down without a fight as Serena served for it, saving two match points, but the American wasn’t to be denied as she completed the 7-5 6-3 win.


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Serena moves past Azarenka in Indian Wells classic

Serena Williams defeated Victoria Azarenka in one of the highest-quality straight sets matches you’ll ever see in a spectacular BNP Paribas Open second round showdown at Indian Wells on Friday night.

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