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Brisbane Final Preview: Angie Vs Vika

Brisbane Final Preview: Angie Vs Vika

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

BRISBANE, Australia – No matter who wins Saturday’s final at the Brisbane International, one player will walk away with a drought-busting win. No.22 Victoria Azarenka is in her first final since Doha and aiming for her first title since Cincinnati in 2013, nearly two and a half years ago. Looking to stop her is No.10 Angelique Kerber, who will try and snag her first win in six tries over Azarenka.

The first week of the year began with much hand-wringing over the withdrawals and retirements of the Top 3 seeds in the tournament, with defending champion Maria Sharapova, World No.2 Simona Halep, and No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza exiting the tournament under a cloud of injury. It will end with a rematch of the best women’s match of 2015, when Azarenka got the better of Kerber in the third round of the US Open, winning 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a grueling match.

“We always bring the best out of each other, I think,” Azarenka said. “I mean, I hope we do. It was a pretty amazing match, so I hope we can put on a good show. I think the final deserves that.”

Azarenka has been in blistering form all week. She has dropped just 13 games in four matches, posting two bagel sets along the way. Her run in Brisbane most assuredly puts her on the shortlist of favorites at the Australian Open – she is, after all, a two-time champion in Melbourne – but Azarenka doesn’t want to get ahead of herself.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” she said. “I’m not saying anything besides that. It’s irrelevant. Tomorrow is a match. I’m looking forward to that. I never jump ahead. It can seem so close, yet so far. Done those mistakes before, and I’ll stick to being present.”

Kerber has looked just as sharp this week. Aside from dropping the first set of her tournament to Camila Giorgi, Kerber has been untouchable, notching wins over Giorgi, Madison Brengle, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Carla Suárez Navarro. Most notably Kerber has unveiled a more aggressive gamestyle. A change of strings during the off-season – she now uses a Yonex hybrid and natural gut – has given her more pop on her groundstrokes.

“I was working a lot in the last few weeks on this, so I’m trying to transform it to the matches,” Kerber said of her newfound aggression. “It works good right now. Of course I must take the decision and just go for it and not hope that the other one will miss. I will try to make the points by myself.”

Looking towards Saturday’s final, the big focus point will be Kerber’s serve. Azarenka is one of, if not *the* best returner in the game when she’s at her best. Much of her 5-0 record against the German is a result of her ability to dominate Kerber’s second serve. Kerber hopes her off-season work on her serve will pay off now.

“I worked a lot in my off-season on my serve, and I’m feeling that the serve is also a little bit faster,” she said. “Also I’m trying to go for it with my second serve, not only pushing the ball. Of course that needs time. I think I’m on the good way. I’m feeling better on my serve.”

So will we see another three-set epic on Saturday? Kerber’s 2015 was defined by her participation in the year’s best matches. Earlier in the week Kerber’s compatriot and doubles partner Andrea Petkovic – the two are into the doubles final against Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza – was asked why her friend always finds herself embroiled in dramatic matches against the game’s best.

“I think one part of her game style is that she plays fast but just not too fast to make the other girls play well,” Petkovic said. “She’s too good for the lower-ranked players, but for the top players I think she [hits] exactly the pace they need to play really well.

“But Angie is somebody, when she gets challenged, she gets the best out of her as well. So I think these two things coming together just make for Hollywood, popcorn, great movie nights.”

Come back on Saturday as WTA Insider live blogs the final from Brisbane. The final begins at 7:30pm local time, 9:30am GMT.

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Shenzhen Player Party Highlights

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

How did Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Eugenie Bouchard feel about glamming up for the Shenzhen Open player party? See highlights from the big night here.

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Azarenka Express Steams Into Brisbane SF

Azarenka Express Steams Into Brisbane SF

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

BRISBANE, Australia – Victoria Azarenka continued her relentless march towards a second Brisbane International title with a quick-fire quarterfinal win over Roberta Vinci on Thursday night.

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Having dropped just seven games across the opening two rounds, Azarenka put No.8 seed Vinci to the sword in similarly ruthless fashion, running out a 6-1, 6-2 winner.

Azarenka set her stall out on the opening point, arrowing a backhand return into the corner. The break swiftly followed and while she was unable to hold onto this for long, she was soon ahead once more thanks to a fizzing double-handed winner.

Twenty minutes later she swatted another backhand away to take the set. In the second, it was the forehand that came to the fore, a brilliant stretching passing shot and a crisp down-the-line winner creating the vital breakthrough in the sixth game.

“I’m pretty pleased with tonight,” Azarenka said. “Thank you for the full crowd – you guys make me play much better, that’s for sure!

“I feel like I was really focused from the beginning and I knew she wasn’t going to give anything away so I had to take control and really dictate the play. I’m glad I stayed strong and focused in the difficult situations and really fought for every point.”

Meeting Azarenka in the last four will be the tournament’s surprise package, Samantha Crawford, who earlier in the day defeated Andrea Petkovic, 6-3, 6-0.

“Nobody gets into the semifinals without playing well so I’ll need to rise to this challenge – it’s a new experience – but I’m just happy to be back in the semifinals and doing something I love,” Azarenka, the 2009 champion, added when asked about meeting Crawford for the first time.

On the other side of the draw, No.4 seed Angelique Kerber continued to play herself into form ahead of the Australian Open with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. While Carla Suárez Navarro came through a topsy-turvy encounter with Varvara Lepchenko, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

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Radwanska In, Bouchard Out In Shenzhen

Radwanska In, Bouchard Out In Shenzhen

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

SHENZHEN, China – The two remaining seeds in the draw – Agnieszka Radwanska and Eugenie Bouchard – had mixed fortunes on Quarterfinals Day at the $500,000 Shenzhen Open on Thursday.

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The No.6-seeded Bouchard was the first to take center court and succumbed to an on-fire Timea Babos, who broke once per set and fended off all five break points she faced to prevail, 6-4, 6-4.

Bouchard, who had only played one match since the US Open due to a concussion, was playing her first WTA quarterfinal since last year’s Australian Open – Babos was just too sharp on the day, though.

“Genie’s a great player, and she definitely has more confidence and is playing a lot better than the couple months before, so I’m happy I was solid and managed the tough situations well,” Babos said.

And what about the big serving in those tough situations? “In general, in my game, I have one of the biggest serves on the tour, so it’s a huge advantage for me, definitely. Genie is an aggressive player and takes the return very early – she has great returns – so I had to put a lot of first serves in.

“Thankfully in the big moments I came up with good serves and aces, so it worked out well.”

The No.1-seeded Radwanska took the court straight afterwards and needed just 63 minutes to beat Wang Qiang, 6-3, 6-2, holding all nine of her service games – she saved both break points she faced.

Radwanska has now won 20 of her last 24 matches – including eight in a row on Chinese soil.

“We actually played each other in Tianjin, and I think she played a much better match this time, but I really pushed myself to play my best tennis today,” Radwanska said. “It was a good match for me.”

Up next for the World No.5 is Anna-Lena Friedsam, who won a see-saw battle against Katerina Siniakova in the late match, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1. Radwanska beat Friedsam in the pair’s only meeting.

Babos’ semifinal opponent will be Alison Riske, who rallied past Anett Kontaveit, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Babos has beaten Riske in both previous meetings, including in Tianjin just a few months ago.

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Suárez Navarro Changes Her Tune

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen | Carla Suárez Navarro started out 2015 as one of the most consistent players on tour. Now the understated Spaniard has a big goal for the 2016 season – what is it?

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