By Ros Satar – In Indian Wells
- Serena Williams  def. Agnieszka Radwanska  6-4 7-6(1)
- Victoria Azarenka  def. Karolina Pliskova  7-6(1)
- Williams v Azarenka – H2H: Williams leads 17-3
INDIAN WELLS, USA – Indian Wells will see the rekindling of a great rivalry between World No. 1 Serena Williams and former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
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Serena Williams  def. Agnieszka Radwanska  6-4 7-6(1)
It was a scintillating match of cat and mouse as Radwanska knew she had to come out swinging – breaking Williams in the first game. This is itself has not been new in this tournament – Williams has started slow, before in the tournament, and was swiftly on the wrong end of 1-3.
Yet earlier in the day we had seen the same attacking start from Kei Nishikori against Rafael Nadal, and when Radwanska struggled to convert another three break points, and lost her own serve a couple of games after, there was a sense that her head had dropped a little.
Williams span out four games on the bounce to take the first set, and it really looked like Radwanska had gone when Williams sped out to a 3-0 lead. From somewhere though, just as quickly as Williams had turned on the speed, she went off the boil as Radwanska crept back into the match.
The lightning returns had started to latch back on the Williams serve as she broke twice but was pegged back as she tried to serve for the second set. Williams found another gear altogether as Radwanska got the first mini-break, only to lose seven points in a row for Williams to close out a tight straight sets win 6-4 7-6(1).
After all the hype about her return last year, to pull out before the semi-final was an anti-climax, so to make the final brings about an interesting switch up for the World No. 1.
She said: “Definitely didn’t think I would be in another final here ever. Then last year just really, really bad luck. I felt devastated that I wasn’t in the final or at least even being able to play. After the last final I had here, I never pictured myself being back. So it’s [an] interesting feeling.”
Victoria Azarenka  def. Karolina Pliskova  7-6(1)
In the second semi-final, the effortless power of Pliskova had Azarenka on the back foot almost immediately, fending off break points, and eventually breaking down Azarenka for a mid-set break.
Suitable disgusted with herself, the Belarusian’s racquet bore the brunt of her frustration as she began to claw herself back into the match, saving two set points before finally breaking through Pliskova and nudging ahead once more for 6-5. As Pliskova started to tighten up, Azarenka started to hit more freely- swiftly jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the tie-break. With just one point on the board, Azarenka ripped a devastating winner past Pliskova to bring up the single set point she needed, leaving the Czech deflated.
Frustratingly for Azarenka she could not convert on four break points at the start of the second set (the racquet was not her friend tonight), and once more it was Pliskova who grabbed the first break initiative.
The second set slipped away rapidly from the Belarusian setting up an intriguing finale. Azarenka got the better of the Czech with an early break, and sealing the deal at the end of the set for a
Williams v Azarenka – H2H: Williams leads 17-3
It may seem strange to refer to a one-sided head to head as a rivalry but for a while now, there has been a sense that the tour needs the return of Azarenka to her best. After rushing her initial come-back from injury, last year was a better year for the Belarusian – she was the danger in the draw, either unseeded or low down the pecking order, and caused havoc.
She may not have won at all against William in their matches last year but they were all taut three setters and there is a feeling that it won’t be too long before she regains her winning ways over her old adversary.
Williams has been slow to start but when she has put the hammer down it has been pretty devastating – 11 points in a row against Radwanska, seven points on the spin in the tie-break – she cannot be counted out.
Azarenka has made some great strides in this tournament, especially after having pulled out of Acapulco with some pain in her wrist. Maybe it is a sign of taking things a little easier on her body and it paid off as she dropped just one set on the way to the semi-final, against Sam Stosur.
While Williams is perfectly happy trading blows from the baseline, Azarenka played a good aggressive game against the Czech, moving up inside the court.
Azarenka cannot afford another nervy start as she did against Pliskova. Granted Williams has started slow in a couple of matches, but we can expect her to lift her game to another level. 15 years ago, in a place which had special meaning for Williams she experienced perhaps the ugliest side of sport. There is a lot at stake for her to be able to close the door on that episode, and she will come out firing.
This is a real head v heart call. After all Azarenka’s trials and tribulations it would be great to see her lift another trophy and pretty much cement herself back in the Top 10 if she wins, but to see Williams win would be a special piece of history.
Prediction: Williams in three sets.
Williams and Azarenka will play the final on Sunday.