Azarenka Wins Clash Of Grand Slam Titans In Miami

Victoria Azarenka (photo: courtesy of Miami Open presented by Itaú video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 28, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Saturday afternoon’s featured match at the Miami Open presented by Itaú resembled a blast from the past involving Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber, both seeded this week in the WTA 1000 event, who happen to be former Grand Slam champions.

The No. 14 seed Azarenka maintained her mastery of Kerber, seeded 24th, by rallying from down 1-4 in the opening set on the Grandstand. She went on to win 7-5, 6-2 for her ninth career triumph over the German in 10 meetings. Like the latest outcome, six of them have been decided in straight sets.

Azarenka, who was playing for the first time since pulling out of her semifinal match at Doha with a back injury three weeks ago, used good game management throughout the 90-minute tussle. She hit four aces and accumulated 25 winners, broke Kerber six times in 15 tries – including three times in the final set – and took advantage of her opponent’s 28 unforced errors. Her victory sets up a fourth-round match-up on Monday between former Miami Open champions with World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty, who advanced earlier in the day with a 6-3, 6-2 win over former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

During her virtual press conference, the three-time Miami Open champion Azarenka was asked by Tennis TourTalk what she was most proud about in beating Kerber in this battle of former No. 1 players. She said: “Well, definitely finding my rhythm and kind of bringing a lot of, you know, positive energy on the court.

“When things weren’t really working out in the beginning for me, I felt that I was looking for the right approach, trying to find my rhythm, so I think that’s what I’m the proudest of today. Then, the game started to pick up. My rhythm started to pick up. My movement started to pick up. I felt like it came first from my approach and my mentality.”

Later in the press conference, when a reporter asked Azarenka why she felt she matches up so well against Kerber, the Belarusian answered:

“I think that our games do match pretty well. She’s a counterattacking player. She’s great in defense. I do use that part of my game as well sometimes, so it does match to have a lot of like long rallies and tough games.

“But I felt that I have always been managing to take my chances in the match, and I know no matter what it’s going to be really hard, so I prepare to play against Angelique fully.”

Around the Hard Rock Stadium

Saturday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Saturday’s Miami Open results – ATP

Sunday’s Miami Open order of play

What they’re saying

• World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on the possibility that she and her coach, Craig Tyzzer, might be spending the rest of the season on the road: “Tyz and I are ultimately prepared to stay away for the season. Obviously with the quarantine laws in Australia, we do our two weeks’ quarantine in a hotel, and there is actually not a lot of space in the season to be able to do that just to get home for the two weeks.

“So at this stage we’re planning to be away until after the US Open and potentially right to the end of season. Without a doubt it was something that was new to me, new to try and wrap my head around and comprehend where we’re going to be away for such an extended period.

“Of course there were tears the days leading up. There were tears when I did finally leave, and then when we left. Then we were delayed and had to leave again. It was all kind of happening.

“No, but I’m certainly happy to be here now. We are in the rhythm of playing and I think being back out on court and competing is bringing a smile to my face.”

• No. 6 seed Denis Shapovalov on what satisfied him most about his 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4 comeback victory against Ilya Ivashka Saturday night: “I think just winning. In the end, of course there is a lot of moments where even in a comeback the match can turn the other way again.

“I was really happy to kind of stay on the accelerator and pretty much – you know, I felt like I was leading the second and third sets, and I felt like I had a lot of chances. So I’m really happy I was eventually able to convert on those and just get the win today. I think it’s a really, really good win for me.”

Kei Nishikori is one of several players in the Miami Open who lives in south Florida, along with Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova and Sofia Kenin. After Nishikori’s 7-6 (6), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Aljaz Bedene on Saturday, Nishikori was asked about the convenience of playing close to home and the playing conditions. He said: “It’s a great tournament, of course. I live very close from here, so I feel like home.

“Only thing is the weather is very sticky, like very heavy and very humid. Humidity is very high. I think that makes a little bit tough playing here. And also in slower conditions you have to play many long points and long rallies. That’s the only tough things.

“But everything else is good. Good hotel. Many courts here. Very easy to being here.”

• No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina, who is through to the fourth round and will face No. 9 seed Petra Kvitova on Monday, on what she’s learned about herself in the past year: “Definitely I learned to enjoy the present moment. As we can see, everything can happen in one moment. The world stopped. It’s not only everything about tennis. There is also, you know, more important things in life.

“Sometimes it happens that you have to quickly refocus, and I think right now I’m just enjoying playing matches. Winning/losing doesn’t matter, you know. It’s the matter of the process.
I really enjoy working hard. Hopefully very soon we are gonna be living again in a normal life without the bubbles and seeing more people in the stands, as well.

“So right now, for sure, it takes time so I try to enjoy every positive moment that I get.”

Iga Swiatek on Ana Konjuh, who beat the reigning French Open champion Saturday afternoon, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, to advance to the fourth round: “I’m really happy for her that she’s playing so good after so many problems that she had. I think she’s a good example of, you know, a nice comeback and just believing in yourself. It’s really nice.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

• In the final question of her Saturday virtual press conference, Tennis TourTalk commended Victoria Azarenka for the depth and quality of her recent video podcast series, “Think About It,” a great source of personal pride, and asked her what she learned about herself from taking on the project, and if she hopes to do more of them in the future. Azarenka said: “I have learned a lot of that because the reason for me to do the show was for me to learn and for me to take my audience on the learning experience.

“The diversity of guests and the panel that we have done, that was the whole kind of point of that. I have learned so much from my guests and also from myself. I have taken myself out of my comfort zone to kind of go in something that I haven’t really done before, but I want to do the best as possible.

“I didn’t want to feel like, you know, I’m just beginning and I’ll just see how it goes. I wanted to, you know, prepare myself to do the best job as I can.

“So, I really took that seriously. It was very scary in the beginning. Unlike tennis, it’s very subjective business in part that, you know, people, they like it or they don’t like it, when in tennis people can like you or don’t like you but you still win or lose. So, it’s more objective. So that part is always more nerve-racking and gives me a bit more anxiety (smiling).

“And, yeah, I am looking forward to do more. One part that was very exciting for me was how people reacted to it and how many more people actually want to do the show and be the guest. So that was like a relief for me (smiling).”

• Before World No. 17 Elise Mertens of Belgium won her first match in Miami on Friday, a 6-4, 6-1 win over Great Britain’s Katie Boulder that improved her season win-loss record to 12-2 (all on hard courts), she had been idle since losing to Garbiñe Muguruza in the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on March 12.

After losing in Dubai, Mertens went home to Belgium instead of playing in last week’s St. Petersburg Open, where she would have been the top seed.

Mertens spoke one to one with Tennis TourTalk on the importance of taking a break from tennis from time to time.

“I spent three days at home, which is always nice to recharge and just rest. The mental part is very important. I came here [to Miami] early to prepare – the best preparation that I could – and, hopefully, it will pay off,” she said.

While home, Mertens got to be with her pets, which include dogs and turtles. She said she did not watch any tennis on television or online – “it’s not that I didn’t want to see anyone else win or play well” – but did practice once and did a little fitness.


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“I was with my dogs, my animals, living at home with my two little nieces. Family is very important to me. Mentally, being at home gave me a lot of rest,” she said.

“It’s nice to be off tennis because when you’re in a tournament, it’s 24/7. So, I think it’s very important to switch it off. Of course, it’s always on your mind to improve yourself. But it’s also important to switch the button to off sometimes.”

On Sunday, Mertens will play No. 22 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in a third-round match. It will be their third career head-to-head meeting and first since Mertens beat Kontaveit at Sydney in 2019. Mertens has reached the round of 16 in each of her three previous tournaments this season.

What they’re sharing on social media

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga / And baby makes …


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Elina Svitolina / Everyone thinks dating an athlete is fun …


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