Victoria Azarenka made her stance known at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden that set her up for a finals match for the title. The 2012 champ came back from a dismal second set to eliminate Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6(1), 1-6, 6-2 on Stadium One at the BNP Paribas Open Friday night.
The series between the two was brief with each having beaten the other going back to last year when Pliskova won her second round match at Brisbane. Azarenka last won against the Czech in 2008 and hoped that with her dominance so far at Indian Wells that she can repeat the same score. The former number one took a double bagel victory against low ranked Magdalena Rybarikova Thursday putting her two steps from a finals appearance.
Pliskova had some big victories early before taking down Johanna Konta in a three set battle that surpassed her personal best in the desert. After eliminating the up and coming Brit, Pliskova outdueled Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinals maintaining a two set match win. Though she won against the Belorussian in three sets, she’d have to hope for a good start and break early against her.
Pliskova challenged Azarenka in the first game where despite playing through three breaks on deuce, she lost out against the second serve of the Belorussian who took the lead. She led 2-1 with strong service on the ball that gave her a clean break for the victory. Both continued holding serve through four games with the Czech playing aggressive against Azarenka in her attempts to change the tide of the set.
She broke the former number one in the fifth before racking up the aces in the sixth that produced a love service taking a 4-2 lead. To get back into contention, Azarenka changed up her movements bringing the game closer to the net where she dictated the positioning of the ball. She shattered Pliskova’s three game winning streak getting back within one with an important hold of serve.
The efforts from Azarenka were up and down as she at times lost her frustrations with slamming her racket to the ground. Her blowing off steam in the ninth kept her in the set but knew that working hard against Pliskova on serve would need to be solid or face being down a set. It took a lot of energy and a play deep into the court as every point counted to her stepping up on rallies and winning on her own terms.
She returned to controlling the ball in the 11th where two aces on serve got her back on the lead with a third consecutive win putting her in reach of the set. Pliskova wasn’t going to fall down easily and dominated once again on serve leveling through 12 to setup the tiebreaker.
Azarenka had things on lock during the critical point of the set as she took a 5-0 hold before the Czech put an end to the streak. It was short lived for Pliskova as the Belorussian cruised to victory with five set points ending the 53-minute fight that had Azarenka ahead in the match.
Pliskova opened service in the second but her attempts to strengthen against Azarenka fell much like her own serve percentage. She somehow kept tight during a deuce draw that went six breaks and lasted 10 minutes before winning it. A second win for the Czech sent Azarenka into an angry spell letting her frustrations out on her racket. By the time Pliskova took a 2-0 lead, the Belorussian went for a new racket hoping to make a change.
She earned a win in the third but saw her path to victory get further away. Pliskova rallied on to win four straight against her opponent as Azarenka’s five double faults, inability to score on the break and 36 percent on the first serve cost her dearly ending a quick 34 minute set.
With the deciding set underway, Azarenka was back to serving first holding off her Czech counterpart. Game two went to deuce where two breaks elapsed before Pliskova secured her chance to level up. The hold of serve continued on for the two as the Belorussian took the lead after three. A huge moment arrived in the fourth as she dominated on the return breaking the Czech while in turn opening the gap.
Azarenka increased the margin to three upping her level of play while strategizing on her opponent’s ball placements. Pliskova tried to stay alive winning her second of the set but she was finding herself on the edge of defeat in singles play. Azarenka dictated well in the seventh winning by two game points that put her in position to play for the match.
Azarenka’s confidence helped her redirect the pace of Pliskova’s serve where upon match point she watched a high ball on the return land outside the court securing her place in the finals after two hours and five minutes. “I felt like I improved since the Australian Open working hard and its good to see that all that work I’ve put in is paying off,” Azarenka said after the match. “I try to improve from match to match and apply whatever I’ve been working on and I’m glad that I’m putting myself in a position against the best player.”
With things now in place to face Serena Williams in the final on Sunday, the former champion of the event will try to do it again. “I think it’s important to control yourself,” Azarenka said about her title match. “There’s nothing you can do to control from your opponent so I can’t wait to give it all.”