Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka: Score, Reaction from 2016 Indian Wells – Bleacher Report

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Victoria Azarenka used a hot start and held off a late rally by Serena Williams to earn a 6-4, 6-4 win in the 2016 Indian Wells final on Sunday.    

The first set, while competitive, did point to a good day for Azarenka. The No. 13 seed matched Williams with three aces and was a perfect 5-of-5 in break points saved in the opening set that lasted 10 games. She would finish 11-of-12 in break points saved overall, making up for eight double-faults. 

Williams’ inability to convert on those break-point opportunities gave Azarenka the opening she needed to get her first win over the world’s top-ranked player since 2013 and fourth in 22 career matches. 

It was also a historic victory for Azarenka, as it broke a tie with Williams’ sister, Venus, for most wins against the 34-year-old in a final, per WTA Director of Content and Publications Kevin Fischer:

After the first set, while it’s difficult to question an athlete’s toughness, there was a sense that Williams had thrown in the towel. There were signs she was not playing at the top of her game two days ago against Agnieszka Radwanska, per’s Peter Bodo:

Match-to-match, the question that materializes time and again out of that fog of unforced errors and poor footwork is: ‘Will Serena come out of it, find her game, win again?’

It often appears that she’s running on fumes, and perhaps in some ways that’s true. But she is a woman of remarkable physical and emotional strength and will, and if that isn’t enough, there’s always that ability to exercise the equivalent of the nuclear option: that magnificent serve.

The loss to Azarenka has also highlighted a recent trend for Williams. She’s struggled in the later stages of tournaments lately, losing in the U.S. Open semifinals last year, the Australian Open final and the Indian Wells final so far this year. 

It could be a sign Williams is just mentally off her game or that age is finally starting to catch up to her. It’s also possible that, in each case, her opponent was better on that day. Focusing on what Williams didn’t do tends to overshadow what the other players—in this case, Azarenka—did to defeat her. 

Jake Davies of Last Word on Sports noted that Azarenka was casually watching Williams tumble down the rabbit hole during the match:

ESPN The Magazine‘s Howard Bryant noted the difference between the two women on the court in this match and in their respective careers right now:

Azarenka is already having her best season since 2013, winning her second tournament of the year after a two-year title drought. A win over Williams is the cherry on top, as she lost her last five matches in this rivalry, including two in Grand Slam events last year. 

Williams did eventually show some signs of life in the second set, crawling back into the match after falling down 5-0. She won four straight games, putting the pressure back on Azarenka to close things out. 

With the 10th game in the second set tied at 40, Azarenka finally found her footing with two straight points to secure the win. 

Jose Morgado of the Portugal Record highlighted what Azarenka’s win means for her in the rankings and overall:

Injuries in 2014 knocked Azarenka down at the height of her powers. It was a long struggle for the 26-year-old to get back to where she was in 2012 and 2013, winning back-to-back Australian Open titles, but this season looks like a return to form. 

Williams will always be given the benefit of the doubt because she’s earned that kind of trust after 15 years of dominance. She is human and can be thrown off her game, just like any other athlete, but there will be many titles in her future. 

Azarenka’s climb back into the top 10 is the story of this year’s tournament at Indian Wells. She’s got as much upside as any player, including Williams, when healthy, and this looks like the best she’s been in three years.

Tennis is more interesting with two dominant players. Williams remains a force, but Azarenka is going to make plenty of noise in 2016. 

Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka: Score, Reaction from 2016 Indian Wells – Bleacher Report