Today’s final was Serena Williams‘s for the taking. She didn’t seize it as boldly as she might have, but she performed just well enough to overcome both the windy conditions and a reliably dogged opponent in Victoria Azarenka.
When Serena is playing as well as she did during the third set, it’s tough to see how she ever loses. But today we saw an excellent illustration of both her assets and her liabilities. If her opponent can hang around in rallies, there will be enough errors to swing some matches in the other direction. Most of the WTA rank and file can’t absorb her pace and stick around long enough to reap the benefits of those errors, but Vika can.
And when Azarenka is playing her best, as she did on occasion throughout this match, she can attack on one of Serena’s less penetrating shots, creating opportunities for her own winners. A player with a bigger serve would do that with her serve; Vika must try to do so within each rally.
By the numbers, it’s a bit of a miracle that Vika forced a third set. Twice in the second set, Serena served for the match and was broken. It was a testament to Azarenka’s stubbornness, always putting one more ball back in play, forcing Serena to overcome both the pressure and the wind. In that second set, Williams had a hard time doing that.
It was the wind–and Serena’s difficulty dealing with it–that kept this match going as long as it did. While it made life difficult for both players at times, especially when playing on the right side of the chair, Serena struggled much more. She never really adjusted to the conditions, setting up early and taking big swings when the wind was likely to move the ball a bit too much for that. Many of Serena’s errors–especially her 33 unforced errors on the backhand side alone–can be attributed to that sloppiness.
By the third set, the wind had settled down and so had Serena. Azarenka provided some help with two crucial double faults in the fourth game of the set, including one on break point. It wasn’t her first poorly-timed double fault of the match–four of her five came at 30-30 or later–but this one was the beginning of the end. Unlike in the second set, Serena didn’t let up. She consolidated the break by holding to love, with an unreturnable, two aces, and a running backhand lob winner.
I wrote this morning that Azarenka’s chances hinged on her serve. She won 54.5% of her service points, a bit less than she did against Serena in Cincinnati, but better than she did in each of her last three matches in New York. Had she limited her double faults to less important moments, 54.5% may well have been enough.
In the end, Serena was simply too strong. Vika is the very best on tour at what she does, negating the advantage of those huge weapons, but it allows her very little margin for error against Serena. That margin for error wasn’t quite enough for her to pull off the upset today.