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Azarenka on cruise control

Victoria Azarenka puts away a volley.
by Kate Battersby
Saturday 30 June 2012

The No.2 seed Victoria Azarenka had to be seriously resourceful at times during her third round match against the qualifier JanaCepelova. The young Slovak ranked just 178 in the world – showed it was not by accident that she had made it to the last 32, defeating the No.28 seed Anabel Medina Garrigues on the way. It was all good stuff from a 19-year-old making her Grand Slam main draw debut – but for all that,it was little wonder that Australian Open champion ultimately prevailed 6-3, 6-3 in 74 minutes.

There is a mathematical possibility that Azarenka can regain the world No.1 spot by the end of this Championship, although she must reach atleast the quarter-finals to do so. She sat at the top of the tennis tree for 19 weeks earlier this year after her triumph in Melbourne. That win came in the middle of a run of 26 undefeated matches with which she began 2012, the longest start-of-year winning streak since Martina Hingis kicked off 1997 with 37 straight victories. Cepelova, by contrast, lost in qualifying at both the Australian and French Opens, and the experience of playing in front of 4,000 spectators on No.2 Court today was startlingly new to her.

In very blustery sunshine, Cepelova was soon on the defensive. She fought off one break point in her opening service game but another was too much for her, and it looked briefly as if the players’ respective rankings would dictate that this would be a very short match indeed. Instead, Cepelova broke back despite two line call challenges from Azarenka, both unsuccessful. Azarenka switched to all-out attack and regained her advantage for 3-1. But Cepelova attacked right back, really finding the sweet spot of her racket to pass Azarenka twice for 15-40 and then force an error for the latest break. Alas, the confidence-booster did not last. With Azarenka leading 4-3, Cepelova double-faulted (including a foot fault) to give two break points, and disastrously double-faulted again for the break. Azarenka served out the set in simple fashion.

But the second set was really hard fought. Cepelova was determined to capitalise on the advantage of serving first. At 2-1, she forced three break points from Azarenka, with the latter serving her way out of two of them and Cepelova netting on the third. It was real trench warfare, with that one game alone requiring 13 minutes to accommodate nine deuces. Azarenka was urging herself on, and at 3-3 it was Cepelova whowas in trouble when loose play put her at 0-40. She played well to save two of the break points but the third was a long rally where she eventually put the ball long. Azarenka whooped in delight – this a player to whom whooping is of course entirely normal, given the signature sound which accompanies her every stroke of the ball. Indeed, at 5-3 she screamed loud and long after needlessly putting the ball wide, much to the amusement of the crowd. But by then she was easily in control, delivering a smash for two match points and takingthe win when Cepelova sent the ball out.

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