March 21, 2016
Serena Williams lost her second significant final of 2016, a reverse that might just blow women’s tennis wide open for the rest of the year, including Wimbledon.
Victoria Azarenka’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over Williams at Indian Wells was an outcome many experts had predicted for the Australian Open, where Angelique Kerber came through under the radar to grab glory instead.
The important shift in the balance of power is that Serena can no longer be regarded as such a heavy favourite for the bigger tournaments such as Wimbledon – not in the way she was throughout 2015 anyway.
The exciting unpredictability within the women’s game right now can only raise the level of entertainment as we approach the European summer and of course the biggest tournament of all – Wimbledon 2016.
Naturally, Serena will remain a major contender as she seeks to equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. We will continue to enjoy one of the greatest players the game has ever seen and we should cherish Williams and her powers while we still can.
However, the increasing suspicion is that Serena’s stranglehold has been broken, after she was beaten at the US and Australian Slams and now India Wells too.
Ever the warrior, she will fight extra hard to prove the doubters wrong. And that should make for some explosive and dramatic tennis in the months to come.
Indian Wells remains a controversial venue for Williams, who spent fourteen years in self-imposed exile following racial abuse allegations back in 2001.
Her close friend Victoria Azarenka seemed all too conscious of this, and was generous in her post-match remarks after she survived a second-set fightback which saw her lead reduced from 5-1 to 5-4.
Azarenka had broken a nervous-looking Williams in the very first game of the match and maintained a sufficiently healthy advantage to hold her own nerve and claim a 6-4, 6-4 triumph in the end.
A surprising 33 unforced Williams errors, as opposed to 22 winners, appeared to tell the story of a woman who wasn’t entirely at ease during the showpiece occasion, even though it was staged in her own country.
Vika said later: ‘Where do I start? I know how hard it was for you to come here, Serena…it’s truly inspiring, you have changed our game. If it wasn’t for you, working so hard, I wouldn’t be so motivated.’
Meanwhile Novak Djokovic drew level with the great Roger Federer by winning his 27th Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells.
He defeated an injured Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0 and played with near perfection. No one should be in any doubt that in Djokovic we are witnessing one of the greatest players the world has ever seen, a man who seems to want to get even better.
Rarely in any sport has such athleticism been matched by such steely mental strength, a winning blend that has created a man who has it all on the tennis court. Novak consistently brings it, too, and that is a testament to his ability to fend off complacency.
While Raonic made 27 unforced errors, Djokovic made only four. Then he casually explained how he was able to take apart the big Canadian, who appeared to be suffering from a lower back injury.
An admirably ruthless Djokovic said: ‘I think this was the best I played all week. Milos’ injury allowed me to move him around the baseline. His first serve problems allowed me to step in and dictate the play. And I was on top of his every second serve.’
Not quite true. Raonic managed to achieve success on ten per cent of his second serves. But that clearly isn’t enough. And the match lasted only 1hr 17 minutes.
That’s another reason why the Grand Slams are the places to be. Even if you witness one player dominant over another, it takes three sets to win a match and therefore there is more time for the tide to change and true sporting drama to unfold.
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