Indian Wells R3: (32) Victoria Azarenka vs (2) Maria Sharapova
The pick of the third round matches at the BNP Paribas Open sees Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova renew hostilities in what is arguably the best rivalry on the WTA tour. This is by far the most anticipated match of the tournament thus far, it will be the first meeting between these two fierce rivals in almost two years.
Vika has made a solid start to the season, her level is gradually climbing. The Belarusian arrived in California on the back of an impressive run to the final in Doha, her best result since returning from injury. The former Indian Wells champion enjoys the conditions in the desert and will relish the opportunity to get a crack at Maria Sharapova, an opponent she has a great record against (on hard courts).
Azarenka advanced to the second round with a relatively straightforward 6-2 6-4 victory over good friend, Kirsten Flipkens. Vika dominated the opening set but found herself down an early break in the second set, the Belarusian was up for the fight and raised her level towards the end of the set, comfortably closing out the match in straight sets.
Maria Sharapova made a solid start to her Indian Wells campaign, defeating Yanina Wickmayer 6-1 7-5. Sharapova was dominant in the opening set but had trouble closing out the match. The world number 2 needed 6 match points to finally set up a third round clash with Vika.
Sharapova served particularly well throughout her victory over Wickmayer. The Russian holding serve in all 9 of her service games, saving the one and only break point she faced.
Vika has a 7-6 head to head record over Sharapova, but more importantly the Belarusian has won 6 of their last 7 matches on a hard court, a pretty impressive statistic. However, it is Sharapova who has emerged triumphant in their two most recent encounters. Sharapova beat Azarenka 6-1 2-6 6-4 in the semifinals at Roland Garros in their most recent match.
Azarenka seems to have an edge against Sharapova on a hard court, the Belarusian can absorb Maria’s pace and is able ware Maria down. Sharapova has often seemed to lack a plan B against Vika, often going for too much and hitting too many unforced errors.
What makes this rivalry great is that these two genuinely don’t like each other. There have been a few infamous incidents between these two including a collision during a change of ends in the Stuttgart final, Sharapova then went on to make a sly remark in her post match interview, implying that Azarenka was over exaggerating an injury.
The conditions in the Californian desert suit Vika, I think she is extremely close to her best and is ready to take the next step, starting with a victory over Sharapova on Monday.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to defeat Maria Sharapova in 3 sets