February 3, 2010

SERENA: The Aussie Escape Artist

(Excerpt from Steve Flink's: Australian Open Retrospective)

Her history of nearly impossible escapes at the Australian Open is nothing short of staggering. In 2003, she rallied from 1-5 down in the final set against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals, saving two match points to win that match, and then took her first title over her sister Venus in three hard fought sets. Two years later, Serena was getting destroyed by an inspired Maria Sharapova, losing the first set badly. Sharapova served for the match in the second set, served for the match again in the third set, and had three match points altogether. Williams somehow won that match and beat Lindsay Davenport in the final.

In 2007, the drama continued. That year, she came into the tournament ranked No. 81 in the world and proceeded to oust six seeds on her way to a third title. Nadia Petrova took a 6-1, 5-3 lead over Serena but Williams came back to get the victory. In the final, she routed Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Last year, Svetlana Kuznetsova served for the match against Williams in the second set of a quarterfinal with Serena, who recouped for a three set win. She took that title for the fourth time, routing Dinara Safina in the championship match. This time around, Williams was untouchable through the first four rounds of the tournament. Not once did she lose her serve in eight sets.

But then she faced the No. 7 seed Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka was blasting the ball with immense power and depth, going for the most audacious of returns, essentially beating Serena at her own game. Azarenka was up 6-4, 4-0, on the verge of an emphatic victory over the best woman player in the world. Once more, Williams turned extreme adversity into another opportunity to demonstrate why she is among the most indefatigable players ever to step on a tennis court.

She quickly and irreversibly took the initiative and an instant role reversal took place. Azarenka was now on her heels and forced to react to the power and intensity of Williams. Serena released a cavalcade of winners and spectacularly potent and accurate shots.

Williams made it back to 4-4 in a hurry. Azarenka kept her composure, made it into a tie-break, and took a 3-1 lead in that sequence. Williams answered the alarm bell again, winning six of the next seven points to reach one set all. She came through 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, and then served terrifically in a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1) win over Na Li.

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