Victoria Azarenka stayed cool and collected during the humid day to win at the Miami Open. Her 6-3, 6-0 win over Magda Linette had her signature strength and aggression that advanced her to the fourth round at Crandon Park Tennis Center on Easter Sunday.
This was the first meeting between the two athletes and at a critical point that could improve the season of one and lift the other high up the ranks. The 110th ranked Polish star performed under pressure in her first round match against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The three set battle she endured moved her into the second round where she got the surprise of her life winning after just one game to which Jelena Jankovic retired from play.
With the time off the court, the Pole had time to prepare for the biggest match of her tournament to date. Azarenka showed her power in Friday’s match where she dispatched Monica Puig and her supporters in the stands to get into this position. While she might have another good chance at an easy win the Belorussian would have to overwhelm Linette early to find the path to the next round.
The humidity was at 67 percent by the time the match began with Linette serving against the strong return of Azarenka. She handed her the break with a double fault and had to face the powerful shot of the former number one. She almost opened the door for Linette to break her on the serve but rallied ahead on the board to take the 2-0 hold.
The Polish tennis star ended the shutout on court holding service on her second try showing some resistance to allowing her opponent to dictate the pace of the set. She pushed Azarenka into deuce in the fourth where speed on the ball was too much for Linette hitting the ball far off court for a 3-1 score. A well constructed strategy for the Pole on serve earned her another step forward to stay close on the score finding ways of handling the pressure Azarenka added to her returns.
It was 4-3 to Azarenka after seven where she kept the lead holding her own end, as the 24 year old wanted to stay on her tail. New balls came into play in the eighth with the Belorussian firing them away at Linette going up a double before winning on an unforced error from the Pole. Azarenka played for the set in the ninth but watched as Linette overshot on her service handing the triple set point winner down the line. The first set got done in 36 minutes with Azarenka edging Linette on first serve percentages but both struggled lightly on it. The four double faults that Azarenka recorded showed that her aggression to recover paid off.
The second set was Linette’s biggest challenge to Azarenka as she played the rally on big moments that at one point stopped the Belorussian from winning. A huge miss for Azarenka near the net caused her to swing the racket into the net earning her a warning from umpire Mariana Alves and boos from the crowd. The net shots were still coming from the Pole nailing big shots to gain back the advantage and fight for control. She didn’t have the energy to lock it down allowing Azarenka to hold on her opening serve.
Azarenka had a 3-0 run against the Pole taking control with big swings of the net trying to beat the weather and her opponent at the same time. A talk from Izo Zunic tried to help his athlete get back into the running letting her know the realities of Azarenka’s intentions and how to counteract on court. The actions from Linette weren’t enough to change the fact that the Belorussian was running away with the match sitting 5-0 with a clear view of the round of 16.
The Polish star had one chance to stay alive in the match with the ball in her end. As soon as the ball was in play, Azarenka changed course making Linette move around the court to return. Her serve struggled under the pressure of elimination giving Azarenka three match points. It was over on a short rally as the ball flew to Azarenka but fell just over the line to end the match in 1 hour and 10 minutes.
The improvement on serve for Azarenka certainly was a push to gaining the bagel over Linette that punched her ticket into the fourth round. “The key was to stay aggressive and always to put pressure on her,” Azarenka said to Andrew Krasny about the match. “She’s a grinder and whenever she has opportunity she will take it. She has a lot great hands and showed a lot of variety here but I’m glad I took advantage and stayed on top of her.” She’ll await the winner between American Nicole Gibbs and Spain’s Garbine Muguruza which will take place Tuesday.