By Ros Satar

  • Victoria Azarenka wins her first title in almost two and a half years
  • Defeats fourth seed Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-1

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Victoria Azarenka returned to winning ways for the first time since 2013 when she defeated fourth seed Angelique Kerber for the Brisbane International title.

From the start of the match we could sense there was another one of their more epic encounters on the cards. Kerber actually seemed to have started the brighter – while they were evenly matched for the first few games, passing shots whizzed from her side of the net leaving Azarenka at times rooted to the spot.

So it was unfortunate that a loose game saw the German broken. Using some of that new aggression she broke straight back, but the trading of breaks continued leaving Kerber once more on the back foot. For a double fault to seal the first set was actually a little undeserving as Kerber had done more in the set than to just hand it over like that.

She would have to make sure she fought back, and put Azarenka under pressure on her serve, making her save three break points in the opener of the second set. The problem sometimes with Kerber though is as her head drops, her body language starts to give her away, and again a player like Azarenka will just pounce.

The quality of play in the first set was high, and it really came down to just a couple of points to decide the first set, but once the second set started to get away from the German, Azarenka continued with all the momentum of a steam train.

She rounded out a win to bring her total to 6-0 against Kerber, who half pleaded for a chance to win next time.

With the doubles still to come for the German, it must have been hard to come in and talk about a loss before going out to do it all again in the doubles – Andrea Petkovic had joked about them being the worst doubles pair in the world, and here they are going up against the best in the final (Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza).

She said, in her press conference: “I think I’m feeling good with the way I’m playing. I need a little bit of time to get used to my new game style which I will try to improve in the next few weeks. For the beginning, it’s not bad. Of course I’m reach the final for the first time in Brisbane and for the first tournament of the year.

“I’m really proud actually about that. Of course I can still improve my game. I will try to work still on my serve, to be aggressive, and, yeah, I think that in the next few weeks I get use to it. And then for me, maybe it’s a little bit easier to play like two, three sets this style.”

But the moment had to belong to Azarenka – it has been a long while since she has been up at the top and with Lucie Safarova’s withdrawal from the Australian Open, she will almost certainly seal the 16th seeding for Melbourne. While she is by no means a certified favourite despite having lifted the trophy aloft herself twice, with the Top 5 WTA stars all struggling in some way, shape or form, there are a number of players now who must surely fancy their chances.

At the top of the ladder, Agnieszka Radwanska, herself a winner today in Shenzhen must fancy her chances of a solid run and so too must Azarenka, whose struggles I have seen over the last two years. For a lot of that time there seemed to be a desperation to win, to get back into the habit of playing, and all that happened was more injury issues.

Now though, Azarenka speaks often about ‘living in the moment,’ so what brought her to this zen-like state?

“I obviously ignored for a long period of time and tried to act like this is not a problem, this is not something that I need to take care of. I think that prolonged my injury a little bit. I didn’t take enough time to figure out, to heal, and work on myself.

“But, you know, I think being an athlete we always think about physical performance tennis performance and tactical performance. But I think mental preparation is very important. Feeling happy on the court. We have such a long season. To have that sense of just enjoyment, joy on the court, I think is important, too.”

That’s not a bad moment to start the year on.

The Australian Open starts on 18th January.

 

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