Serena’s Calm before a Needed Storm

Serena BOW 12 MALT0484

Williams has been untouchable since August


FROM THE BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL – Serena Williams may not go down in history as the greatest player ever, but she continues to challenge for that claim and in Brisbane, she began the new season as ended the old one, showing the rest of the world’s elite that they are at least a step behind her. In the final, the No. 1  came up with the goods when she had to and stopped the women who is considered her greatest rival, Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-5 in an entertaining and hard fought match. Williams is now 14-3 against the player who threatens her the most, and is 15-2 against another top slight woman who is supposed to threaten her, Maria Sharapova, whom she bested in the semifinals. Serena is still a more secure than either and a better all around player than Azarenka is. Her first and second serves are bigger weapons, her forehand does not break down nearly as much and she can pound her in crosscourt rallies and while Azarenka’s backhand might be bit better and she returns just as consistently, she doesn’t rip return winners with the force of Williams and has more extensive mental walkabouts, even if they are brief. She essentially let go of the first set when she committed three unforced errors including a double fault to be broken to 4-3. Serena did sputter up after going up an early break in the second set, when she grew nervous for some off reason and began to hit off her back foot and saw the strong legged Belarusian tie the set up at 2-2. But even though Azarenka is terrific inside the baseline ball striker her serve is vulnerable. Williams talks a lot about how she is playing better when she is calm, but in this instance she pushed herself to be more aggressive, yelling and chiding herself and she broke back to 3-4 with a booming overhead. “One of my goals is to stay relaxed, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of not having the intensity,” Williams said. “So I wanted to make sure I had the intensity. Seeing someone on the other end that does have a lot of intensity, I don’t want my level to drop.  For me, it was just kind of important to stay not only focused but to stay pumped as well. There is a title on the line.  I wanted to be holding the winner’s trophy at the end the of the day.” The 17-time Slam champ looked in a little trouble down 4-5, 0-30, but gutted out a couple of points and then nailed down a 177 KMH ace to hold to 5-5. The pressure was on the former No. 1, who couldn’t stand the heat. Serena outlasted her in marathon rally and on break point, engaged in another slug fest until she had a look at a corner. She launched a gutsy backhand down the line that Azarenka couldn’t touch. Williams then served the march out, ending it with a  182-KPH flat serve out wide and then a slice serve into the deuce court that her foe could barely get her racket on. Against a healthy Williams, dips in form and concentration are not tolerated “I think she gives you less chances, definitely,” Azarenka said. “But I can never underestimate any other opponents.  The matter is to be focused on yourself than your opponent.  I think that’s the better view for your game.” Two-time defending champion Azarenka will now head to Melbourne where she says she “hopes” to meet Williams in the finals. “I’m a perfectionist,” she said. “I want to play better.  I want to win.  I can’t say I’m satisfied today, but I want to take the positive, what I’ve done today, and build from here towards the next week. This is the first week where you really test yourself where your game is at, and from here you can take the positives and the things that you have to work on and really go after that.” Williams has won 22 straight matches and took her 58th career crown, but she has been unable to raise an Aussie Open title for the past two years, partly due to ankle injuries. She badly wants title No. 5 and another crown in Brisbane was a good indication that she is well prepared for it. “It was a great test,” Serena said. “It showed me where my level was, and I feel like I definitely have some room for improve and things that I want to improve on going into Melbourne. I’m happy I was able to play both Maria and Victoria, because they brought their A games against me.  I know now what I need to do for Melbourne.  I look forward to it.”

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