Victoria Azarenka made a real statement in terms of her title credentials at Wimbledon as her comeback continues, defeating British hope Heather Watson in a three set thriller 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and six minutes on Centre Court.
Watson made a bright start and looked to seize the opportunity to score one of the biggest wins of her career as she outplayed the former number one in the first set. Azarenka was always going to bounce back being the great champion she is and she raised her game, piling on the pressure on the Brit’s serve. The majority of the games in the second and third set were very close, with many going to deuce and lasting a significant amount of time, but it was the Belorussian who came out on top all too often as another opportunity for a huge win on home soil for Watson unfortunately passed her by.
* Article originally published by me for UBITennis.net *
Just as she did in her first two matches at SW19, Watson got off to a fast start back out on Centre Court for the first time since she won the Mixed Doubles title with Henri Kontinen last year. Both players looked nervy early on and the Brit found herself facing two break points in the opening game. The world number 102 saved both with big unreturned first serves before an ace brought her to game point, with the British number two closing with a forehand winner.
Azarenka looked very uptight in her first big match back since giving birth to baby Leo in December and a double fault followed by a return of serve winner from Watson earned her a first break point. After a mishit return from the Brit left the court gaping for the Belarusian to hit a winner she hit a very uncharacteristic mishit ballooned forehand to hand the first break to the home favourite. With just 10 minutes played Watson established a 3-0 lead to the delight of the British crowd.
Former world number one Azarenka faced further adversity in the sixth game down 15-30 and at deuce as Watson continued to strike fearless winners past the two-time Australian Open champion. The Belarusian was able to survive and pumped herself up having so far failed to get the match on her own terms.
Having made such a promising start, Watson’s level dipped significantly as three errors left her 0-40 down on serve. A first double fault in the match handed the break back to silence the Centre Court crowd. However, that disappointment did not last for long as Watson broke once again straight away with her first chance to create the opportunity to serve for the opening set.
There were tense moments as the Watson service game went to 30-30, but the Brit held her nerve in what was an excellent first set from the world number 102, making just four unforced errors as she sealed it 6-3.
The former world number one responded as expected and piled the pressure on the Brit in her opening service game in the second set. Watson had a game point to hold but two unforced errors on the forehand side helped Azarenka get the early strike in and swiftly establish a 3-0 lead despite her opponent having a break back point.
Azarenka had really stepped up her aggression and level as the match progressed, looking to come forward whenever possible, winning 11 out of the 14 points at the net up to this stage in the match. With the pressure on the Brit, Watson’s forehand started to break down increasingly as she faced another break point in the fourth game. On this occasion the world number 102 was able to stand firm, snuffing out the chance with a one-two punch combination before holding to get on the board.
The sixth game was a real tussle with Watson failing to secure the hold of serve despite having three opportunities. The Brit could not make a first serve on the game points and was getting burned by deep aggressive returns of serves. With Azarenka’s relentless groundstrokes continuing to pile on the pressure, making 93% of her returns of serve in over the course of the set, the world number 102 cracked as the Belarusian secured the double break with a rather fortunate dead net cord.
Watson was far closer to the former world number one in this set than the scoreline suggested and once again the Brit had a chance to break back. With the last six games going to deuce the match was finely balanced game after game, but it was the Belarusian always getting over the line and she did so again to take the second set 6-1 to force a decider.
The final set was full of adversity for Watson early on as the Brit’s opening two service games saw her have to come back from 0-30 down and survive multiple deuces to hold. By contrast Azarenka’s service games were very straightforward as she levelled at two games all.
The seventh game was a monumental tussle, lasting over 10 and a half minutes as Watson tried to hold serve to stay in front. The Brit squandered a number of game points and Azarenka eventually broke through on her second break point.
The match was far from over as Watson was able to break back immediately, but her second serve continued to get burned as she dropped serve once again to leave the former world number one serving for the match.
The nerves were clearly there for Azarenka playing in just her fifth match back on tour as she fell down two break points once again. The two-time Grand Slam champion held her nerve and reeled off four points in a row so seal a huge win for her on her comeback trail and to book her place in the fourth round.