INDIAN WELLS, March 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Serena Williams used every single inch of the court to defeat Victoria Azarenka on Friday night. By the end of her 7-5, 6-3 second-round victory at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, her play was nearly flawless.
However, it was the hug that the two moms shared at the net afterward, accented by Vika’s kiss on Serena’s right cheek, that will long be remembered. It was genuine and it expressed one of the sincerest friendships in tennis.
“I truly love here and she’s a really good friend,” Williams said during an on-court interview that followed her win. “She’s a fellow mom and a former No. 1 just like me. She’s an amazing person.
“It’s hard to play someone you’re close with. It’s also very invigorating and cool.”
After 48th-ranked Azarenka left the court, she had a chance to collect her thoughts and tweeted: “To share that match with another mom was amazing.”
During her sit down with reporters, Azarenka reflected on her friendship with Williams and their match. “I think it’s not a surprise that we have mutual respect and love off the court,” she said, as quoted by the WTA website. “On the court it’s a fight. It’s a war. It’s a lot of intensity. But after the match, it’s over. After the match, that’s it. Whoever won, you know, congratulations.
“I think it was quite an amazing match. I hope people enjoyed watching it. I hope we can do some more of that, because that’s what tennis is about today. And having such a match on International Women’s Day, I felt that was really incredible.”
The win was Williams’ 18th in the 22 times she and Azarenka have faced each other. Williams fired 39 winners to offset her 45 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Azarenka hit 25 winners to 24 unforced errors. Twelve of 21 services games went to deuce. It was that kind of intensity throughout the two hour and seven minute match that brought out the best in both moms.
— WTA (@WTA) 9. März 2019
In arguably the best match that each has played since becoming a mom, New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg posted on Twitter: “The intensity, focus and court graft was remarkable throughout. Would have been a great final, but was just a second round.”
Indeed, in previous years, this matchup of former No. 1 players would have decided a championship. Instead, this year, it came on just the third day of the tournament. However, the Williams-Azarenka showdown captured the attention and enthusiasm of fans who flocked to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in this palm desert city on a chilly and windy evening. The win advanced the No. 10 seed Williams into Sunday’s third round against No. 20 seed Garbiñe Muguruza.
“Shoutout to all my fellow ladies out there,” said Williams. “I didn’t expect to play like this tonight. It was crazy but it was really cool and to happen on International Women’s Day.”
Williams was asked to assess her performance and she was upbeat. “I thought I played well,” she said. “Playing champions like Victoria makes me realize that I still have a ton of improvement to do. I have the desire to do it.”
The victory by Williams provided a nice coda at the conclusion of International Women’s Day and her thoughts summed up what the moment meant to her. “It’s awesome being a woman and being a mom, and just being out here celebrating the great day.”