The first week of the 2014 season has seen the top four seeds meet in semi-final contest at the Brisbane International, leading to the eventual clash between the top two players on the WTA tour: Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Arguably the most significant of all the rivalries on the WTA tour, Azarenka represents the only legitimate challenge to Williams’ dominance over the past couple of seasons. Since the start of 2013, Williams holds a 71-1 record against athletes not named Azarenka, losing only to Sabine Lisciki in the Wimbledon Championships. Her record against Azarenka is 2-2 since the start of 2013, exemplifying the growing rivalry between the two top athletes.
The world no. 1 has been in fantastic form since the start of the Brisbane International, picking up straight sets victories over Andrea Petkovic and last year’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova. She followed up yesterday with another strong showing, this time taking out Russian superstar Maria Sharapova for the 15th time. While her service games were not her strongest, particularly her first serve percentages, she was able to end the Russian’s run in Brisbane with a relatively competitive straight sets victory. The defending champion’s 6-2 7-6 (9-7) win was her 14th straight against Sharapova and 15th in 17 meetings between the two.
Azarenka’s route to the final was slightly more challenging as she only managed a straight sets victory in her opening round match against Dellacqua, needing three sets to defeat both Voegele and Jelena Jankovic. Her semi-final contest was particularly challenging; The World no. 2 dropped the first set in just 29 minutes, Azarenka got right to work, easing through the second set and storming out to a 5-1 lead in the third – Jankovic snuck out three games to cut that lead down to 5-4 but Azarenka closed it out confidently to earn her fifth meeting with Williams in the last year.
The American leads Azarenka in their head-to-head series, 13-3, but the pair split four meetings last year, Azarenka winning at Doha and Cincinnati and Williams at Rome and the US Open, making this a fantastic, compelling rivalry and a thrilling final in Brisbane. Azarenka also bested Williams in a pre-season Exhibition match but that should not factor into the upcoming match. If Serena continues to have problems with her service games, then Azarenka will be primed for a possible upset victory as she is not one to allow the top seed any mistakes.
“It’s a good rivalry,” Williams said. “She’s so intense on court, and off court she’s so cool. So that’s what makes the rivalry the best, is because when you step on the court I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me, and we fight like crazy. When it’s over, it’s over. There’s a lot of mutual respect there.”
It should also be noted that Venus Williams is in the finals of the ASB Classic, where she will face Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic. The last time the Williams Sisters won singles titles in the same week was in 1999. Can history repeat itself come Saturday afternoon?
Prediction: Serena Williams in Three Sets