By Alana Mitchelson
(January 20, 2014) MELBOURNE – Victoria Azarenka has raised her record in Melbourne to an 18-match win streak after disposing of Sloane Stephens in straight sets, 6-3 6-2 on Monday afternoon.
The all too familiar Australian Open match-up of Azarenka and Stephens may not have featured a controversial medical timeout this year, but it did not go without a couple of cringe worthy ‘pegs’.
Both ladies took to the stage in hot pink tennis gear. An aggressive Azarenka, who had no fear in going for the big shots, gifted herself the early break and, in turn, the psychological edge on young Stephens.
At 4-2 in the first set, Stephens propelled a body shot directly at her screeching opponent when, arguably, she had other options as to where she may have directed the ball.
No matter, the Belarusian maintained composure and served out the set, however not without receiving a time violation in between serves.
“I’m happy with the way I played. I think we were very competitive today,” Azarenka reflected.
“I know that Sloane is a great player, a very tough fighter. She was holding her serve really well. I felt like I had a few chances, but she managed to come back strong. So it was important just to stay in that zone and try to create another opportunity.”
The second set passed by more quickly than the first and as Azarenka rapidly gained momentum, dictating play, she kept the rally points to a minimum. All the while, Stephens’ unforced errors accumulated and a few poorly timed mishits contributed to the world No. 2 establishing a double break to clinch the match in straight.
“I just felt that I managed to pick it up on the important moments and really control the game. Even though sometimes I missed a few shots, I felt like I was doing the right thing. I just wanted to apply that and keep working on that.”
While the women’s draw has experienced major upsets over the last few days and the road ahead might appear as though to have opened up greater opportunities for the Belarusian world No. 2, since Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have been extinguished, Azarenka is not overly confident.
”You have to stay alert. It doesn’t matter the level, that you’re No. 2 or whatever. Everybody has proven that anybody can beat anybody. The way I approach the matches, I have to be ready 100 per cent for every player.
”It doesn’t matter. We still have high competition out there. The players who beat those players deserve all the credit because they’ve been better, so they are dangerous and they are competitive. For me it’s important to just keep focusing on my game and to play it one at a time. Quarterfinals of a Grand Slam are never easy, no matter who you play.”
Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.