Wimbledon 🇬🇧💂🍓🎩 R4 Match Preview:
(2) 🇷🇴 Simona Halep vs 🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka
The pick of the fourth round matches at SW19 sees the second seeded Simona Halep take on a resurgent Victoria Azarenka. Halep has cruised through to the second week in London without dropping a set whilst Azarenka has already overcome a few tight battle in her progression to the second week. The most recent match between these two has an epic at the U.S Open a few years ago, which Halep won in a tight third set. Azarenka will be desperate for revenge here in what should be another memorable match between two very evenly matches combatants.
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Wimbledon 🇬🇧💂🍓 Day 5, R3 Match Preview:
🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka vs (wc) 🇬🇧 Heather Watson
Victoria Azarenka is building momentum nicely at SW19. Azarenka overcame a tough early round test against Catherine Bellis where she came from a set down before cruising past the 15th seeded Elena Vesnina in straight sets. Azarenka will come up against Britain’s Heather Watson on Friday, an opponent the Belarusian has a perfect record against.
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Wimbledon 🇬🇧💂🍓 Day 3, R2 Match Preview:
🇧🇾 Victoria Azarenka vs 🇷🇺 (15) Elena Vesnina
Victoria Azarenka claimed her first win at a Grand Slam since the 2016 Australian Open to book her spot in the second round at Wimbledon. The Belarusian says she is fitter than ever at the moment and is looking to play better tennis than she ever has, a real warning to the rest of the tour. Given the openness of the draw, Azarenka looms as a dark horse at SW19. After surviving a tough opening challenge against Catherine Bellis, Azarenka faces another tough test on Wednesday when she comes up against the 15th seeded Elena Vesnina.
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Madrid R3: (5) Victoria Azarenka vs (Q) Louisa Chirico
Victoria Azarenka is the top seed remaining at the Mutua Madrid Open heading into third round after Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza were all eliminated from the event in the opening days. The Belarussian will be hard to stop from here given her outstanding form, Azarenka in on a 17 match winning streak, finally playing at her dominant, consistent best. Azarenka will be the strong favourite in her third round clash with American qualifier Louisa Chirico
Victoria Azarenka is a two-time former finalist in Madrid, the Belarussian has made a strong enough start to suggest that she can go one step better in 2016. Azarenka started her 2016 Mutua Madrid Open campaign with a 6-4 6-2 triumph over Laura Robson before recording a commanding 6-3 6-2 win over Alize Cornet. Azarenka was challenged by Cornet but was always too good for the Frenchwoman at the important moments.
Louisa Chirico’s impressive start to the clay court season has continued in Madrid. The 19-year-old American is having the best week of her young career, coming through the qualifying draw to reach the third round of a premier mandatory level event for the first time. Chirico has beaten a pair of difficult opponents on route to the third round, a 7-5 6-1 win over Monica Niculescu before claiming the biggest victory of her career, a 5-7 6-3 6-1 win over Ana Ivanovic. Chirico did impressively well to bounce back from the disappointment of losing a tight opening set to ultimately run away with the match.
This will be the first career match-up between Azarenka and Chirico. On paper, this looks like a massive mismatch. This is probably the biggest match of Chirico’s career; the American is likely to find life difficult against the form player on tour but will enter this clash with nothing to lose which is always a good position to be in. Azarenka should continue her winning ways and a pretty comfortable win here.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Louisa Chirico in 2 sets
Madrid R2: (4) Victoria Azarenka vs Alize Cornet
2-time former finalist Victoria Azarenka will continue her quest for her first title in Madrid on Monday where she will take on Alize Cornet in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open. Azarenka is the form player on the tour right now, the Belarussian is on a 15 match winning streak and will be a strong favourite to continue her winning ways against Alize Cornet, an opponent Azarenka has never lost to.
Azarenka made a solid start to her 2016 Madrid campaign on Sunday, recording a relatively comfortable 6-4 6-2 win over Laura Robson. Azarenka was not at her best but was still solid enough to claim a straight set win. Clay has always been considered Azarenka’s worst surface, but there seems to be an opportunity for Azarenka to thrive on the clay in the next couple of months given some of her greatest rivals seem quite vulnerable at the moment.
Alize Cornet’s form is in complete contrast to Azarneka’s. The Frenchwoman has generally struggled in 2016, an injury set-back forced Cornet to miss a couple of months of tennis and her form since her return to the court has been quite poor. Cornet was lucky to advance to the second round in Madrid, Cornet was in trouble against Spanish wild card Paula Badosa Gibert after conceding the first set, but would ultimately progress thanks to her opponent being forced to retire due to injury in the final set. Cornet will need to improve dramatically if she is to claim her first career victory over Azarenka on Monday.
Azarenka has a perfect 4-0 head-to-head record over Cornet. However, the last three matches between the pair have been very close, requiring a third set. Their most recent clash was in Montreal back in 2014, Azarenka claimed a 6-4 2-6 6-4 victory on that occasion.
Azarenka is clearly in a better position heading into this match. Azarenka is in great physical shape at the moment and is extremely confident, whilst Cornet is currently deprived of confidence and match fitness. This is usually a tough match-up for Azarenka, Cornet certainly has the ability to trouble the Belarussian (especially on a clay court) however given the current form of the two, this should be comfortable win for Azarenka.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Alize Cornet in 2 sets
Miami Final: (15) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs (13) Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka is just 1 win away from completing the Indian Wells-Miami double, the Belarussian would be the first woman to do so since Kim Clijsters in 2005. Sunday’s Miami Open final will be a battle between 2 former champions when Azarenka takes to the court against a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova. This promises to be a fascinating final between two players that have displayed an extremely high level of tennis over the last couple of weeks, both are very motivated.
Svetlana Kuznetsova’s run to the final in Miami has come as a surprise given the Russian arrived in Miami having lost 6 of her last 7 matches since she claimed the Sydney title in January. Kuznetsova has defeated a host of quality opponents on route to the final in Miami, most notably Svetlana recorded a huge 6-7 6-1 6-2 victory over Serena Williams in the fourth round. The former champion in Miami backed up her shock win over Serena with impressive victories over Ekaterina Makarova and Timea Bacsinszky. Svetlana has once again proven that she has the game to trouble any opponent when she is at her best. The Russian will know that this could be one of her last opportunities to claim such a big title and will therefore leave nothing to chance and will be very tough to beat.
Victoria Azarenka’s brilliant start to 2016 has continued in Miami, the Belarussian has extended her winning streak to 12 matches and has an overall 21-1 win/loss record in 2016. Azarenka has not dropped a set on route to the final in Miami, recording victories over high quality opponents such as Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Angelique Kerber. Azarenka secured her spot in Sunday’s final with an emphatic 6-2 7-5 win over Angelique Kerber, avenging her loss to the German at the Australian Open. Azarenka was at her dominant best from the baseline but did show signs of weakness towards the end of the match as her suspect serve let her down when she attempted to serve out the match for the first time. Azarenka's serve remains her biggest weakness and could be exploited by a disciplined Kuznetsova in the final.
The head-to-head record between Kuznetsova and Azarenka is split at 4 wins apiece. Kuznetsova dominated the early exchanges between the pair but Azarenka has won the 3 most recent meetings between the two. This will be the first match between Kuznetsova and Azarenka since the 2013 Australian Open, Azarenka won that match 7-5 6-1. Much has changed since their last match, making the head-to-head record somewhat deceiving as Kuznetsova was far from her best in some of those matches.
This is a tough match to call, Azarenka will start a clear favourite given her outstanding results in season 2016, however Kuznetsova has proven that she can beat anyone when she is motivated and at her best. The head-to-head record suggests that this is not a bad match-up for Kuznetsova, in fact these two are quite evenly matched when they are both playing well. Kuznetsova can match Azarenka from the baseline and arguably has a better serve however Azarenka’s ability to come forward and finish off the point could be the biggest difference here. It must also be noted that Azarenka has played a lot of tennis in the last 3 weeks and history has proven that it is very tough to claim the Indian Wells-Miami double. This looks like a 50/50 match, so I will side with the underdog.
Prediction: Svetlana Kuznetsova to defeat Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets
Miami SF: (2) Angelique Kerber vs (13) Victoria Azarenka
A blockbuster semi-final encounter at the Miami Open on Thursday night sees the two best players of the 2016 season collide when Angelique Kerber comes up against Victoria Azarenka. Kerber and Azarenka will number 1 and number 2 in the race to Singapore standings on Monday, confirming that these two have been the best players in the first couple of months of the year.
This will be the third meeting between Kerber and Azarenka in 2016. The Belarussian extended her head-to-head advantage over the German to 6-0 when she thumped Kerber 6-3 6-1 in the final of the Brisbane International in January. Kerber avenged that loss in stunning fashion, claiming a long-awaited first win over the Belarussian with a 6-3 7-5 quarter-final win on route to her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
Angelique Kerber understandably struggled in her first couple of events after her success at the Australian Open, arriving in Miami with a 1-3 record win/loss record since her triumph in Melbourne. Things have looked better for Kerber in Miami as she has advanced to the semi-final stage of the event for the first time in her career. Kerber started the week with an emphatic win over Barbora Strycova before fighting hard for three set wins over Kiki Bertens and Timea Babos. Angie’s ticket to the semi-final was confirmed on Wednesday evening when the German recorded a comfortable 6-3 6-2 win over an erratic Madison Keys. Kerber will now get a chance to prove that her win over Azarenka in Melbourne was no fluke.
Victoria Azarenka has amassed an incredible 20-1 win/loss record in 2016. The Belarussian’s only loss of the season was her quarter-final defeat to Kerber at the Australian Open. Azarenka is on an 11 match winning streak as she looks to claim the Indian Wells/Miami double. As a result of her great start to the year, Azarenka will move back into the top 5 in the rankings on Monday. Azarenka has advanced to the semi-final stage in Miami without dropping a set, claiming straight set wins over Monica Puig, Magda Linette, Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta. The Belarussian has been close to her fierce best over the last couple of weeks and will enter her semi-final clash with Kerber desperate to avenge her defeat to the German at the Australian Open.
This promises to be a really close encounter, the majority of the 7 previous meetings between the pair have been just that despite Azarenka holding a dominant 6-1 head-to-head record over the German. Kerber’s win over Azarenka was extremely important and will give her a new sense of belief whenever she steps onto the court against the Belarussian. There really is very little to separate these two, both are heading into this clash full of confidence and with a point to prove.
I’m going to side with Kerber in this clash. This is Kerber’s first ‘big’ match since her Australian Open triumph and is a good opportunity for her to regain the stunning form that she her claim her first Grand Slam title.
Prediction: Angelique Kerber to defeat Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets
Miami QF: (13) Victoria Azarenka vs (24) Johanna Konta
Victoria Azarenka’s dominance has continued at the Miami Open, the former champion has won 19 of her 20 matches in 2016, claiming titles in Brisbane and in Indian Wells just last week. The Belarussian is starting to look more and more like the player that dominated the tour for large chunks of season 2012 and 2013 and is rapidly rising back up the rankings. Azarenka’s quest for a second Miami Open title will continue on Wednesday when she comes up against Johanna Konta at the quarter-final stage of the premier mandatory level event.
Victoria Azarenka heads into the quarter-final stage of the Miami Open as the favourite to win the title after Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska both suffered shock losses at the fourth round stage on Monday. Azarenka remained strong on a day of upsets, recording a solid 7-6 7-6 victory over Garbine Muguruza in what was arguably the highest quality match of the tournament thus far. There was generally very little to separate the pair throughout the match but Azarenka was clearly braver and more solid in the crucial moments in each tiebreak, particularly in the first set tiebreaker where the Belarussian saved 2 set points. It was clearly Azarenka's toughest match of the event thus far after she started her week with comfortable straight set wins over Monica Puig and Magda Linette. Azarenka is full of confidence right now and will be extremely tough to stop in Miami.
Johanna Konta has also made a wonderful start to the season and will also enter this quarter-final clash full of confidence. The British number 1 started her Miami Open campaign with a comfortable straight set win over Danka Kovinic before being made to work extremely hard for a 4-6 6-1 7-6 win over Elena Vesnina, a match that Konta probably would have lost in the past. Konta was in trouble late in that match but showed great strength to find a way to reverse the momentum that was clearly against her and ultimately find a way to win. The Brit’s fourth round win was far more straightforward, a commanding 6-2 6-2 win over Monica Niculescu. Konta’s quarter-final clash with Azarenka will no doubt be her biggest test of the tournament thus far.
These two have not played out a completed match which adds a little more intrigue heading into this clash. Azarenka seemingly has a clear edge in this match-up, Konta has a very solid game and good serve but she doesn't really have the ability to hit Azarenka off the court, whilst Azarenka is far better defensively and has a far greater ability to come forward and finish the point off at the net. Azarenka is on a roll right now and I don’t see her slipping up in this match-up.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Johanna Konta in 2 sets
Indian Wells Final: (1) Serena Williams vs (13) Victoria Azarenka
Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open final will be a blockbuster encounter between two former champions at the event: Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. This will be the first match between the pair in 2016, Serena was pushed to a third set by Azarenka in all three of their matches in 2015 and probably remains the American’s biggest threat on tour at the moment and moving forward over the next couple of seasons. This will be a special occasion for Serena Williams, being back in the final at Indian Wells for the first time since that infamous 2001 final. Whilst Azarenka is into her first major final for a couple of years and will be pumped up for this occasion.
Serena Williams has generally been in impressive form on route to the final at the BNP Paribas Open, the American has not dropped a set and is looking as strong and aggressive as ever. Serena recorded convincing straight set wins over Laura Siegemund, Yulia Putintseva and Kateryna Bondarenko before stepping up her game to record two more straight set victories over fellow top 5 players Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska. Serena’s 6-4 7-6 semi-final win over Radwanska was a strange one, Serena started the match really poorly as she was uncharacteristically showing no emotion and seemed disinterested. However, Serena was clearly too good for Aga when it mattered most in both of the sets, Serena eventually got fired up in the second set and played some sublime, aggressive tennis in the second set tiebreak to book her spot in Sunday’s final.
Victoria Azarenka has also shown some impressive form on route to the final at the BNP Paribas Open. The Belarusian has still lost just one match in 2016 (A loss to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open, Serena’s only loss this year was also against Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open). Azarenka started the event with routine wins over Zarina Diyas and Shuai Zhang before being forced to work much harder for a 3 set win over Sam Stosur. Azarenka thumped Magdalena Rybarikova 6-0 6-0 in the quarter-finals before overcoming her toughest challenge of the event in a three set win over Karolina Pliskova. Azarenka booked her spot in the final with a 7-6 1-6 6-2 win over the Czech. Azarenka looked very solid from the baseline, however her serve was an issue, ending the match with 10 double faults. Azarenka will need to serve much better on Sunday if she is to record a rare victory over Serena.
Serena Williams holds a commanding 17-3 head-to-head record over Victoria Azarenka, however, despite the lopsided head-to-head record it is possible to make a case for Azarenka being Serena’s greatest rival over the last couple of years. Azarenka has pushed Serena to a third set in 5 of their last 6 matches including all 3 of their matches in 2015. The Belarussian actually held leads for lengthy periods in each of their matches last year and squandered 3 match points in their first match of the year in Madrid. Their most recent clash was at Wimbledon last year, Serena won that match 3-6 6-2 6-3, on of the matches of the season.
This is an extremely important final for both ladies. Serena will be desperate to claim her first Indian Wells title since 2001 in her second appearance at the event since that year. Serena will not want to drop another final after her recent losses at the business end of Grand Slams. Whilst, Victoria Azarenka will be pumped up to be in her first final at a major event for years. I suspect Serena will make a statement in this match and win quite comfortably. Serena’s level this year has generally been very high and she will be primed for this final. Azarenka’s serve is likely to be a big problem in this match-up, whilst Serena is also capable of overpowering the Belarusian from the baseline. Serena must be wary of Azarenka after their matches in 2016 and will come out firing here. Serena for the win.
Prediction: Serena Williams to defeat Victoria Azarenka in 2 sets
Indian Wells SF #2: (13) Victoria Azarenka vs (18) Karolina Pliskova
Victoria Azarenka continues her quest for a second Indian Wells title on Friday night where she will come up against Karolina Pliskova at the semi-final stage of the BNP Paribas Open. This will be the first encounter between the pair since last year’s epic match at the Brisbane International, Pliskova claimed a memorable three set victory in a match that lasted over three hours on that occasion. This promises to be another close, exciting encounter between Azarenka and Pliskova.
Victoria Azarenka’s 2016 season form has generally been quite impressive, amassing a 15-1 win/loss record. The Belarusian has looked good in the Californian desert, dropping just 1 set on route to the semi-final stage. Azarenka opened her Indian Wells campaign with reasonably comfortable straight set wins over Zarina Diyas and Shuai Zhang before being pushed to a third set by Sam Stosur, Azarenka played very strong tennis in the deciding set to claim a 6-1 4-6 6-1 victory over the Australian. Azarenka’s quarter-final victory was an emphatic one, a crushing 6-0 6-0 win over a somewhat injury-hampered Magdalena Rybarikova. Azarenka will face a much, much tougher test against Pliskova Pliskova on Friday evening.
Karolina Pliskova is having the best couple of weeks of her season thus far. The Czech has gradually improved throughout the event and seems to be well positioned heading into her semi-final clash with Azarenka. Pliskova recorded comfortable straight set wins over Shelby Rogers and Ana Ivanovic in her first two matches of the week before producing a gutsy performance to get past Johanna Konta in three sets. Karolina saved her most impressive performance of the event thus far for the quarter-final stage where she thumped Daria Kasatkina, claiming a 6-3 6-2 victory over the Russian rising star. Pliskova barely put a foot wrong in that match, serving extremely well and striking the ball with real venom from the baseline. If Pliskova can produce a similar level on Friday night, she may well be too powerful for Azarenka. Pliskova is also into the final in the doubles draw alongside Julia Goerges.
The head-to-head record between Azarenka and Pliskova is split at 1 win apiece. It was Pliskova who won their only recent match, an extremely hard-fought 4-6 7-6 6-4 victory at the Brisbane International in the first event of 2015. Pliskova proved in that match that she has the game to trouble Azarenka, a times there wasn't much Azarenka could do to stop the Czech. It will be interesting to see how different Friday's match is.
This is fascinating match-up, because these two have very different strengths and weaknesses. Pliskova obviously has the better serve but Azarenka has a better return of serve. Azarenka is the better mover from the back of the court and is more consistent but Pliskova probably has more firepower from the baseline This match will be played late at night, meaning the conditions will be quite slow, it is tough to know who that will favour in this match-up. I think this is going to be a close match and could go either way but I’m siding with Pliskova who can take care of business her if she serves well and makes the most of her opportunities on Azarenka’s relatively weak serve and plays without fear.
Prediction: Karolina Pliskova to defeat Victoria Azarenka in 3 sets