LiveAnalysis: Victoria Azarenka vs Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open Fourth Round

Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today we have the second meeting between World No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and top youngster Sloane Stephens. Azarenka won their first match, a most eventful semifinal at this very event last year (even if the scoreline was a pedestrian 6-1, 6-4)

Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game analysis throughout the match!

As in previous LiveAnalysis posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:

BH: Backhand
BP: Break Point
CC: Cross-court
DF: Double-fault
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
FH: Forehand
GP: Game Point
I-I: Inside-In
I-O: Inside-Out
SP: Set Point
S&V: Serve and Volley
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error

No preamble – let’s just jump into the action!

First Set – Victoria Azarenka will serve first

0-0: We start with a double-fault. Sloane lets Azarenka dictate a fair share, and the reigning two-time defending champ doesn’t waste the opportunities. She holds to 30.

1-0*, Azarenka: Two erratic BHs from Sloane have her at 15-30. Early on, she seems to be struggling to generate depth with that shot, too. Never a good thing against one of the best backhands in women’s tennis. However, a very nice I-O FH by Sloane gives her a GP. That’s the kind of aggressive play she needs to show today. Sloane converts the GP after correctly putting away a tricky short FH.

1*-1: Azarenka tries a dropper, and it fails. Sloane is a hazard in the forecourt, but she hits a nice little bunt DTL to take the point. 0-15. Later, DF #2 makes it 15-30. At 30-30, Sloane goes for some unexpectedly huge FHs, but misses the last one. GP for Azarenka. A SW out wide seals the hold.

So far, this is like two heavy-weights using the first few rounds of a bout to throw a few good punches, but mostly just monitor what is working, what isn’t, and how to best attack their opponent. Azarenka has shown some good willingness to dictate with her FH, and Sloane has responded with some forceful FHs of her own. The DFs are already there for Azarenka, which is a problematic issue for her.

2-1*, Azarenka: Another bad BH gives Azarenka a 0-30 look. A very lazy-looking FH gives Azarenka 0-40, triple BP. This has been an extremely mediocre game from Sloane, but she does save the first BP with a nice BH DTL. But Sloane’s BH cracks soon after, and Azarenka gets the early break.

Sloane is off to one of her usual slow starts – that service game was a mess. Azarenka is doing a great job of making Sloane hit BHs from awkward places on the court.

3*-1, Azarenka: The women trade some nifty BH DTL winners, Azarenka being the most recent one, to make it 30-15. However, DF #3 comes in, so 30-30.  SW out wide, and it’s GP for Azarenka. But DF #4 makes it Deuce. A terrible BH return from Stephens gives Azarenka another GP. Sloane then goes on a rampage, with some good FHs initially, and then another good BH DTL. Deuce #2. Then, some irresistible hitting from Stephens, who bosses Azarenka around the baseline, and finishes with a FH DTL winner. BP #1 for Sloane. It is wasted by another awful return from Stephens. GP for Azarenka moments later…which is converted after Azarenka attacks with a CC FH after a short return, and does enough with a FH swinging volley.

I do not understand how Sloane Stephens can be so good at so many things, and so decidedly average at return of serves. So far, she’s been pretty awful, failing to capitalize on Azarenka’s soft 2nd serves and the fact that the World No. 2 has been DFing at an impressive rate.

4-1*, Azarenka: In about 2 seconds, Azarenka goes up 0-40 after a flurry of Sloane UFEs. The first BP is saved when Azarenka barely misses a volley. 15-40. The second BP is saved with yet another great BH DTL from Sloane. The third is botched by Azarenka, who goes for a big BH DTL, but misses well wide. However, Azarenka will have another BP, as Sloane misfires on a BH DTL herself. It is also saved, this time by some very good FHs (two I-O, final one I-I) from Sloane. But Victoria will have yet another BP (the 5th of this game), after she smartly opens up the court with a great I-O BH. It’s saved by a netted return by Azarenka. Finally, Sloane has a GP after smartly outmaneuvering Azarenka with a great angled CC BH. But then Sloane nets a FH, and we’re at Deuce again. Another BP after Azarenka comes to net and hits a pretty BH volley. Good SW out wide saves it. Now GP after Sloane dictates effectively with her FH (she should always look to do this). Finally, this game is over, after Sloane hits yet another BH DTL winner.

Nice marathon games we’ve had. Sloane has to feel good about herself after fighting off 6 BPs in that game. Maybe she can summon her occasional return of serve excellence now.

4*-2, Azarenka: A short return gives Azarenka a chance to attack with her FH, which she does. Later, a beauty of a BH DTL from Victoria makes it 30-15.  Then, Azarenka drop shots Sloane, who tags her with a pass.

2014-01-19_2126

Sloane seems genuinely sorry, and immediately apologizes (not that she needs to – perfectly legal play by her). 30-30, but GP after Sloane botches a BH. Azarenka returns the favor, so Deuce. Victoria hits a horrible dropper, Sloane gets to it, but sends her reply straight at Azarenka, who almost hit Sloane with her own shot. Moments later, Victoria holds.

I like what Azarenka has been doing in terms of mixing up her excellent baseline game with some timely net approaches and the droppers (even if the latter have been very, very bad). It keeps Sloane guessing, and forcing her to hit difficult shots.

5-2*, Azarenka: Sloane passes Azarenka to make it 15-0. SW, 30-0. Azarenka forces Sloane’s error with a nice CC FH, 30-15. Victoria then tries to come to net again, but can’t get the approach over the net. 40-15. Azarenka then hits a glorious BH DTL, is left with the entire court to put away Sloane’s desperate reply, but sends it well wide. She squeals in despair, and Sloane has held easily for once.

5*-3, Azarenka: Azarenka comes to net on a so-so approach, but Sloane hits an even worse pass, so the volley is successful. 15-0. Some great FHs by Sloane (triggered by a super rare great return) make it 15-all, and DF #5 makes it 15-30. Sloane wastes the small window by netting a BH slice. 30-30. Good wide SW from Azarenka, SP #1 for her. Sloane botches a BH DTL, and the set is over.

First Set to Victoria Azarenka, 6-3.

Here are your Set 1 Stats:

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Second Set – Sloane Stephens will serve first.

0-0: Another horrific service game by Sloane has her down 0-40 in no time. Azarenka gets a good BH DTL return on the first BP, and Stephens badly shanks a FH. Azarenka up a set and a break now.

That kind of loose game is just unacceptable at this stage of this kind of event. Someone like Azarenka will always punish you. And Sloane isn’t returning well enough to think she can just donate service games left and right.

1*-0, Azarenka: Emphatic hold to love by Azarenka, capped by an Ace.

2*-0, Azarenka: Azarenka has another BP at 30-40, but Sloane saves it with some good FHs. Missed return by Victoria gives Sloane a chance to escape, which she does after playing the kind of emphatic tennis she so rarely displays: several great FHs, a very tricky overhead, and then a gorgeous dropper.

In matches like these, you get a glimpse of just how good Sloane can be, but also how much work she still needs to do to get there. I’m quite glad an experienced hand like Paul Annacone has chosen to do the job. The rewards could be very well worth it. But this will be a process, most definitely.

2*-1, Azarenka: Another half chance for Sloane, as Azarenka botches a FH to make it 30-30. But yet another awful return by the American gives GP to Azarenka. It’s denied by a thumping FH from Sloane after a lucky letcord. Azarenka barely catches the back of the baseline with a volley, so GP for her. Terrible shot selection by Sloane allows Azarenka to tee off on a mediocre moonball, and she’s held.

Sloane has been trying to slice her BH some, or hit some weird moonballs out there. I’ll make it short: they’re not working. She has to commit to her drive backhand.

3-1*, Azarenka: Sloane races to a 40-15 lead, but sends a FH long. 40-30. Deuce after Sloane can’t handle an Azarenka FH that ended up being far softer than it initially looked. BP for Azarenka after some fantastic hitting. It all started with a gorgeous I-O BH. SW saves the BP, but a botched FH generates yet another one. It’s saved by a great I-O FH after a very short return. Azarenka is now 2 for 12 on BPs. Sloane? Just 0 for 1. Fantastic hitting from Sloane gives her a GP – she used her drive BH to great avail. But then she botches a regulation FH, so it’s Deuce. After a long rally, Sloane hits probably the worst BH DTL ever. It missed by a mile. BP #13 for Azarenka. It is saved by some very, very good BHs from Stephens (first DTL, then CC). This game is now 8 minutes long. Fantastic, purposeful and clean hitting by Sloane gives her another GP. A good 1st serve allows Sloane to put away a FH, which she does.

The disparity in BPs created is staggering: 13 for Azarenka, just 1 for Sloane. Has Stephens played most of those BPs very well? Yes – she’s saved 11 of them. But she’s barely troubling Azarenka’s serve, and the Belorussian has donated 5 DFs already.

Also, Sloane has 29 UFEs to Azarenka’s 16.

3*-2, Azarenka: DF #6 makes it 15-all. A botched I-O FH makes it 15-30. Another half chance for Sloane. Strong hitting from Azarenka makes it 40-30. A short return allows Azarenka to attack, and the American can’t handle it.

4-2*, Azarenka: Azarenka goes on the offensive with some good returns, and is up 0-30. But Sloane avoids another 0-40 holds with a good SW out wide. 15-30. However, Azarenka pushes Sloane back, goes up 15-40, and plays a phenomenal BP for once, attacking with her return and yanking Stephens far wide so that a simple winner clinches the break.

Way too much competence from Azarenka. And too great of a returner of serve.

5*-2, Azarenka: It’s 30-15 after Sloane nets a FH. Tragically for her, it was an easy shot, triggered by a very rare good return. Then, a horrific DF (#7) makes it 30-30. Azarenka then challenges a good CC BH by Sloane…and she’s wrong by about half a millimeter.

2014-01-19_2217

30-40, BP. It is saved with more great hitting by Azarenka, who yanks Sloane wide on the FH, and finishes with a simple FH DTL. Ace out wide, MP #1. A wild FH from Sloane seals it – Victoria Azarenka goes through!

Game, Set and Match to Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-2.

Here are your full match stats:

2014-01-19_2236

So that was wildly disappointing. Here are two things I can’t get out of my head:

Also, there is this:

2 Responses

  1. Dan
    Dan January 20, 2014 at 12:01 am |

    This defeat means Sloane will drop out of the top 16 next Monday. That record against top 20 players makes me think that even #17 over-ranks her – she prospered from kind draws at Slams last year & might not be so lucky again. She’s also yet to reach a tour final; for the same of comparison, Azarenka had reached 7 finals by the time she was the age Sloane is now, including one in Miami where she beat Serena. Unlike Sloane, she yet hadn’t got beyond a QF at a Slam, but Sloane wouldn’t have done so either without a cushy draw & an injured Serena. I’m not sure what her ceiling is, but I think it’s lower than Halep’s and Bouchard’s.

    1. Dan
      Dan January 20, 2014 at 12:02 am |

      *sake of comparison
      **hadn’t yet

Comments are closed.

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