Serena Williams beat Victoria Azarenka in a stellar second-round match on Friday night at Indian Wells to advance to the last 32.
In her first competitive outing since a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open in January, Williams attained an incredibly high level to see off her rival 7-5 6-3 after more than two hours on Stadium 1.
Azarenka’s level approached that of her best, too, and the two women combined for a contest of the highest quality.
Greatest 7-5, 6-3 match I've ever seen.
— Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff) March 9, 2019
Williams progresses to a third-round meeting with two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, who saw off Lauren Davis earlier in the day.
Muguruza, the 20th seed, and Williams, seeded No.10, have not met since the Spaniard won their Roland Garros final of 2016.
When serving for the match at 5-3, Williams saw two match points come and go and was forced to save two break points before finally sealing victory with an ace.
That was 2 of the most enjoyable hours of tennis I've watched in a long time. Serena bringing such intensity in her first match after 5 weeks off is absurd, and I had almost forgotten what Azarenka looks like at her most intense. Tennis is so much better with both at the top.
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) March 9, 2019
“I truly love her. She’s a really good friend. She’s a fellow mom. And she’s a former No.1, just like me. She’s an amazing person, Serena said of Azarenka.
“It’s hard to play someone that you’re so close with, but it’s also really invigorating, and cool.
“I definitely didn’t expect to play like this tonight. It was crazy, but it was really cool.
“I thought I played well. Playing a champion like Victoria makes me realise that I still have a ton of improvement to do and I definitely have the desire to do it. Yeah, I’m excited.”
Best straight set @WTA match of the year so far, and wire-to-wire, probably the best quality match of the year so far. That was something.
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) March 9, 2019
Although the match did not extend three sets like many of the pair’s other famous encounters, this was a battle that will be talked about for some time.
It featured seven breaks of serve in the first set alone – a stanza spanning 72 minutes – but this was by no means a slight on the quality of the battle.
Azarenka, who returned supremely, is currently ranked No.48 and has struggled to regain her place at the top of the game since returning to the tour as a mother.
As recently as the Australian Open, she was in tears during her press conference after a first-round loss to Victoria Siegemund.
But this performance served as a reminder of the player who was once ranked No.1 and who is a two-time Australian Open champion.
Excellent match between Serena and Azarenka in the desert chill. Two hours and 7 minutes for two sets. Serena hitting and competing at a very high level. Shot-making on both sides was often extraordinary. Felt nothing like a second round.
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 9, 2019
However, like all of their great matches, Serena, invariably, came out on top.
Despite the windy conditions, Williams and Azarenka played some exceptionally clean tennis; Serena finished the match with 39 winners to Azarenka’s 25, among which were five aces.
Williams’ superior power and ability to conjure a killer blow to break the deadlock proved the difference between the two players.
She extended her winning head-to-head record against the Belarusian to 18-4.
|2010||Australian Open||hard||QF||Williams||46 76(4) 62|
|2012||US Open||hard||F||Williams||62 26 75|
|2013||Qatar Open||hard||F||Azarenka||76(6) 26 63|
|2013||Cincinnati||hard||F||Azarenka||26 62 76(6)|
|2013||US Open||hard||F||Williams||75 67(6) 61|
|2015||Madrid Open||clay||R3||Williams||76(5) 36 76(1)|
|2015||Roland Garros||clay||R3||Williams||36 64 62|
|2015||Wimbledon||grass||QF||Williams||36 62 63|
Williams, who recently returned to the world’s top 10, is seeking her first title at Indian Wells since 2001.
She is also aiming for her first title of any kind since she triumphed at Australian Open 2017.
Since her comeback to the tour at this very tournament 12 months ago, her best results have been finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
You know it’s been an epic R2 if this is the match point reaction… pic.twitter.com/mOqW2TOvAq
— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) March 9, 2019
Having competed incredibly hard yet coming up short, Azarenka was keeping a balanced perspective.
“As much as she’s the toughest opponent I have ever played in my life, she’s my favorite person to play against,” she said.
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