Azarenka caps a resurgent week with 1st title since 2013
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — A polished victory at the Brisbane International finally ended a prolonged, disorganized and painful wait between titles for Victoria Azarenka, extending back to August 2013 when she beat Serena Williams in Cincinnati.
She won the Australian Open that year, too, successfully defending her 2012 title, and in a period when she was at the peak of her game.
Coming to Brisbane, the season-opening event she won in its inaugural year in 2009, Azarenka was unseeded after slipping in the rankings to No. 22 at the end of 2015 following two injury-interrupted seasons.
With a renewed determination, sense of order and maturity and fewer distractions, she broke the drought with a 6-3, 6-1 win over fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber on Saturday night for her 18th career title.
“It feels like an accomplishment ... I’m not sure I feel relief,” she said. “I wanted to win the title, but I didn’t feel, ‘If this doesn’t happen the world is going to end.’ I think that’s when you get like relief.”
Azarenka said she was in pain all year in 2015, and realized she needed to time out to heal her mind, body and soul.
“It was a constant battle with pain, with my own fear, like ‘is it going to hurt again? I don’t want to go through that,’” she said. “But it took me to a point where I decided, OK, I got to stop and try to figure out and actually change my life around the tennis court.
“Now I found what works for me, what makes me feel comfortable, calm, at peace. So it’s good.”
While many of the highly-ranked women have struggled with injuries at the start of the season, Azarenka has shown glimpses of the kind of form that helped her hold the No. 1 ranking for almost a year. She said she wouldn’t describe Saturday’s victory as a career comeback, more just a turning of the page.
She dropped 17 games in five matches — equaling Serena Williams’ record for fewest games conceded by a winner at the tournament.
Top-ranked Williams was on the injured list this week, restricted to one set at the Hopman Cup in Perth because of inflammation in her left knee, while No. 2 Simona Halep and 2015 champion Maria Sharapova withdrew and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza retired in her first match at Brisbane because of injuries.
Kerber, who won four titles in 2015, is adding some extra aggression to her serve and expects it will take some time to adjust. She has lost all six head-to-heads against Azarenka.
“For the beginning, it’s not bad — I reached the final for the first time in Brisbane and for the first tournament of the year,” Kerber said. “I’m really proud actually about that.”
Roger Federer and Milos Raonic will meet again in the Brisbane International final on Sunday in a reprise of the 2015 decider at the Australian Open warm-up tournament.
Defending champion Federer, who has been dealing all week with lingering flu-like symptoms, had a 6-1, 6-4 win over eighth-seeded Dominic Thiem, while Raonic beat local hope Bernard Tomic 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) in the semifinals.
“It was my best match of the tournament. I hit the ball very well. I’m very excited to be back in the final — it’s special playing Milos again tomorrow,” said Federer, who is one win away from his 89th career title. “I’ve come here three times now and three times I’ve made the final, so I’m very happy.”
There were no service breaks in the first of the semifinals but Raonic dominated the tiebreakers, racing to 5-1 leads in both and then holding off Tomic after the Australian leveled each tiebreaker at 5-5.
“It’s sort of confirming to myself and the people close to me that we’re on the right track, doing the right kind of work, and the progress is there,” said Raonic, who dropped out of the top 10 last season. “So tomorrow is a great test for me, and one that I’m going to try to make the most of.”